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Winter Journal

Volume 31, Issue 4

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With the U.S. Army’s thousands of soldiers, and base camp operations located throughout the world, even small incremental improvements in operations can reap real rewards in terms of efficiency, safety, and cost savings. Add to this the increasingly restrictive international, national and local laws regarding the environment and the health of citizens, and the stakes become that much higher.

Army base camp operations in the Balkans region of Europe – a significant hub of activity involving seven camps – are now the focus of a major Army initiative being conducted in concert with Hughes Associates, Inc. Dubbed the ambitious program name Zero Footprint Camp, this initiative is charting a whole new course for base camp operations design: the ability to move into an area, set up a base camp, and then – when the mission is accomplished and the camp is shut down – to leave no environmental trace behind.

These base camps are the equivalent of small cities, each one having the same resource requirements and environmental, safety and health issues as any small community. Countless supplies of water, food, fuel and personal items go into these camps. What comes out is waste in the form of sewage, trash, kitchen garbage, and “dirty water” from showers, kitchens and laundries. The traditional tactics for dealing with all this waste have been focused primarily on compliance with environmental regulations. Conventional compliance practices treat the waste inside the camp, reducing but not eliminating it. It’s an ongoing problem, and while compliance has helped alleviate the situation, it is costly, and has not solved the problem completely. The improved disposal methods that have been introduced are very resource-intensive, requiring vast amounts of space for landfills and evaporation lagoons. And then, these are spaces that will never be fully restored to their original condition.

Beyond environmental aspects, the Army is focusing on several other areas of concern. In terms of force protection, the solid waste generated in base camps can be an unwitting source of enemy intelligence – with snippets of evidence revealing the types of units deployed in the camp, their size and activities. Moreover, allowing civilian contractors access into camp perimeters for waste removal (a common occurrence) not only jeopardizes security, but increases the possibility of terrorist activity.

The storage of waste provides a breeding ground for insects and vermin, carriers of diseases that can seriously affect the health of soldiers, sometimes even leading to hospitalization. The Army estimates its DNBI rate (disease and non-battle injuries) in the Balkans Area of operations to be as high as 1.5% of deployed personnel.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for day-to-day operations, base camps tend to have a significant logistics footprint. That includes huge daily supplies of water and fuel. Understandably, transportation, storage and handling of these items place a heavy burden on operations.

Going Beyond the Bases

Zero Footprint Camp (ZFC) represents a completely new approach to the design of base camp operations. Instead of simply disposing of waste in the most environmentally appropriate manner, ZFC actually finds ways to reduce the need for new supplies by putting the waste to productive uses inside the camp. For every need, the search is on for fulfilling it using resources from within the camp, instead of relying on supplies from the outside. The output of a process that might formerly have been thought of as waste, now becomes instead the valuable input to another process.

Installation of several important system components is key to the success of a Zero Footprint Camp. For water processing, “gray water” and “black water” from the kitchen, laundry and latrines is sent to a water processing plant, which produces potable water. This water is reused in these same systems, but it is not meant for human consumption. The remaining sludge is harvested for composting, and the off-gas is used to produce energy.

Another component, a waste-to-energy converter, works in much the same way. But in this case, the resource is trash, and the product is energy in the form of electricity, fuel or heat. Food garbage, as well as sludge from the water processing plant and ash from the waste-to-energy converter are all valuable resources – because they can be turned into a highly fertilized soil, a product that can be either used internally, or sold or given away.
Currently, a small portion (10%) of the waste generated by base camp operations cannot be efficiently processed by waste-to-energy converters or composters. Dubbed “designer trash,” steps are also being taken to convert this relatively small volume of waste into renewable resources. Redesigning the packaging for such items as ready-to-eat meals, metal cans and glass requires research and development to ensure that any new packaging is either burnable or compostable.

Once solutions are found for this “designer trash,” total processing of all wastes will no longer be a dream, but become a reality –with Army base camps leaving no environmental footprint whatsoever. It’s a continuous, closed-loop concept, wherein the base camp is a self-contained entity over its entire life, be that five months or five years.

From Trash to Cash

While the most obvious benefits of the Zero Footprint Camp initiative may be environmental, its positive effects go well beyond that. Force protection is greatly enhanced, and logistics and sustainment requirements are reduced significantly. Preliminary Army estimates as to the savings that can be obtained in the Balkans Area base camps alone by applying ZFC solutions are approximately $57,300 per day, or $21-million annually. Moreover, the investment payback period is likely to be just over one year.

Applying the principles of ZFC beyond the armed forces, Hughes Associates is exploring other segments where the concept is attractive, including disaster relief activities involving the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross, and other groups. Potential applications also exist in private industry, in situations such as remote-location mining or petroleum exploration where there’s enough economic activity to justify the cost.

Much work remains to be done in bringing Zero Footprint Camp to life. But joint Hughes Associates-Army teams are already evaluating commercial technologies that can meet the performance requirements of ZFC system components, including designing the systems to fit into 8 x 8 x 20 ft. ISO containers for easy transport via air, rail or truck in and out of base camps – and from one base of operations to another.

Coordination is also happening with other branches of the military, NATO forces, as well as non-Department of Defense agencies such as FEMA and the Water Environment Federation. The ZFC objective is well within reach – an objective that is as simple as it is powerful: to lower the cost of base camp operations …and then, when the camp is gone, to leave no trace behind.

Pollution Prevention Services also Apply to Private Industry
The U.S. Army isn’t the only organization concentrating on ways to manage pollution and waste more effectively. It’s the focus of private industry as well. Hughes Associates works with private sector clients, taking a “bottom line” approach to pollution mitigation and prevention that marries the best aspects of environmental compliance and financial monitoring to obtain results that are not only good for the environment, but also good for business.

Dr. Daniel Verdonik, Director of Environmental & Pollution Prevention Programs, explains, “Traditionally, most people have concentrated almost exclusively on the ‘end of the pipeline’ – trying to make adjustments to existing manufacturing processes to comply with regulations. Recently, there’s been a bit more focus on the total process, but people often fail to consider how that process fits into the entire system or plant.” Hughes Associates uses a systems engineering approach to deal with a range of pollution prevention opportunities assessments, CFC replacement, halon replacement initiatives, and other concerns.

In its typical role, Hughes Associates acts as both a consultant and a project leader, assembling teams to evaluate the current environmental and economic situation, and then make recommendations. Many aspects are scrutinized, including the cost of compliance under current environmental, health and safety regulations, possible future regulatory changes, the cost of waste disposal, and the cost of permitting. Third-party testing may also be utilized to evaluate the impact of changing manufacturing or other processes. Upon completion of analysis and testing, Hughes Associates develops forecasts based on credible assumptions (and under varying conditions), for a bottom-line financial assessment. “That way, final decisions can be made that make sense from both an environmental and a business perspective,” says Verdonik.

The selection of team members is critical, and teams always consist of people with backgrounds that extend well beyond environmental engineering. If needed, people with experience in materials composition, chemical metallurgy, and electronics engineering are included, making it easier to weigh the impact of changes. What’s ultimately decided is not always predictable. Says Verdonik, “The final decision could be to make a radical change in operations … or it may mean only minor modifications. It all depends on the financial impact, balanced against environmental, health and safety considerations.”
Verdonik reports that because of heightened interest, Hughes Associates is making a strong commitment to its pollution prevention services program, including an expansion of staff devoted exclusively to consulting and project management in this area.

Thomas A. Bush is Director of Environmental & Pollution Planning for Hughes Associates, Inc. The company has offices in every region of the country. For more information on pollution prevention consulting services and programs available from Hughes Associates, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..