The Department of Defense (DoD) has been adopting sustainable practices hand over fist in support of its national security mission, and that is beginning to yield some serendipitous results. In the latest twist, a biomass and food waste recycling operation at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State could end up playing a role in preserving habitat for the Taylor's checkerspot butterfly, which was recently proposed for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
As one of only twelve U.S. joint bases around the world, Lewis-McChord is a highly complex facility that combines Army and Air Force operations. It also serves as a mobilization center for all branches of the Armed Services, and like all federal facilities it is facing enormous pressure from budgetary constraints, which have been exacerbated by the so-called "sequester" mandating drastic across-the-board spending cuts. If Lewis-McChord can take time out from all these travails to tend to the survival of a butterfly, just imagine what your business could accomplish, while saving money on waste disposal costs, to boot.
As of 2012, food waste comprised one of the largest individual sources of composting material, for about 670 tons annually. The main contributor is the base's main commissary, which saved about $21,000 last year in disposal costs for almost 262,000 pounds of waste. Overall, the recycling/composting operation saves the base almost $300,000 annually.
The biomass and food waste composting operation yields a high quality, natural soil amendment, most of which is used at the base. The rest is sold for use offsite, mainly in stormwater management and construction projects as well as landscaping. A grand total of zero goes to landfills or incinerators.
To reassure potential off-base users, Lewis-McChord obtained the Seal of Testing Assurance from a trade organization called the U.S. Composting Council, which is an ongoing process involving third-party testing and analysis. The result is a reliable, consistent product that the base has been able to sell off site, using the revenue to help run its recycling programs. Some of the revenue also goes to support family quality-of-life programs at the base.
The mini-experiment has already exceeded expectations. In natural prairie soils, the restoration project has had a "really tough time" getting the plants to establish, but in the composted plot they have already grown to about four times their normal size.
If the experiment succeeds in boosting the butterfly population, it could help offset the habitat impact of the base's artillery training exercises. Composted plots could be established elsewhere on the base as well as in offsite locations.
Over the next two years, Lewis-McChord expects to use up to 5,000 yards of compost for additional habitat projects on the base. You can read more about the projects, which involve the endangered Oregon Spotted Frog, Western Bluebirds and other species, here.
All this is by way of saying that it makes good bottom line sense for a food business to take a long look at its opportunities to cut down on waste, not only to save money on disposal costs but also for the potential to participate in community projects that help develop a solid reputation for social responsibility. You never know where it might lead.
[Image: Taylor's checkerspot butterfly, courtesy of Joint Base Lewis-McChord Fish and Wildlife Program]
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.