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NEWS | Oct. 2, 2020

Devens Reserve Forces Training Area (RFTA) develops program to divert food waste into energy through anaerobic digestion

By Ashley Bradford Army Reserve Installation Management Directorate

Devens Reserve Forces Training Area (RFTA), Massachusetts, has been hard at work to find innovative ways to increase recycling and divert waste from the local landfill. One of the newest initiatives added to their Directorate of Public Works (DPW) environmental services portfolio is a food waste collection program (provided through their local hauler) that will not only divert waste, but turn that waste into energy through a process known as anaerobic digestion (AD). 

Mark Mirabella, Environmental Protection Specialist at Devens RFTA, has partnered closely with the Solid Waste Program Coordinators under the Sustainment and Resiliency Division (SRD), Army Reserve Installation Management Directorate, as well as their local hauler to establish the food waste diversion program. “This program is a win-win for Devens RFTA as well as the environment,” explained Mirabella. “Our leadership was eager for us to pursue participation in a composting or waste-to-energy (WTE) program in  anticipation of our new dining facility (DFAC) set to open in January 2021. It just so happened that our local hauler was able to easily provide this service for us at a nominal fee on top of our current removal services, so we’re starting with six totes at the DFAC. Those six totes alone have the capability to help us divert one ton of food waste per week.”  

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, AD is the natural process in which microorganisms break down organic materials. “Organic” means coming from or made of plants or animals.  AD happens in closed spaces where there is no air (or oxygen). The following organic items can all be processed in a digester: animal manure, food scraps, fats, oils, greases, industrial organic residuals (produced by industrial manufacturing processes), and sewage sludge (biosolids). After the microorganisms break down the organic materials, biogas is generated. Biogas is a renewable energy comprised of methane and carbon dioxide. It has various uses from powering engines, fueling boilers and furnaces, producing heat and/or electricity, to running alternative vehicles and even supplying homes and businesses through the natural gas pipeline. The wet and solid nutrient-rich material leftover from AD is called digestate. Digestate also has a wide variety of uses that includes making fertilizers and livestock bedding.  

Devens RFTA DPW Environmental Branch is hard at work to ensure the procedures for food scrap and waste collection will be clearly established for DFAC staff and visiting Soldiers who will utilize the new 24/7 facility. They also hope to extend the project to office buildings that would like to participate, and have already begun early collection efforts as tenant organizations welcome large groups visiting Devens RFTA for training. “In 2019, Devens RFTA diverted 50% of our non-hazardous solid waste as we already participate in supporting other WTE efforts with our trash,” clarified Mirabella. “Our diversion rate will continue to climb through this program. Plus, we can do our part as good environmental stewards in the state of Massachusetts by working to meet state goals for diverting source separated organics from disposal.” 

Services Branch Lead, Lt. Col. Danny Jennejohn, who has oversight of the Solid Waste Program at SRD, is optimistic about what this means for the United States Army Reserve (USAR). “Devens RFTA is the first USAR-funded Installation to partner with an outside organization for food waste,” shared LTC Jennejohn. “Once we realize the impact this program truly has, imagine if other USAR-funded Installations and Army Reserve sites leverage these kinds of local services. By enhancing our partnerships, we can support our communities and meet our waste diversion goals to become more sustainable and resilient.”  

For more information about USAR solid waste efforts, please visit the Sustainment and Resiliency Division.