Pulverized Paper as a Soil Carbon Source for Degraded Training Lands

Dr. Ryan Busby | U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center – Construction Engineering Research Laboratory



All DoD organizations are required to adhere to strict federal guidelines in the destruction of classified documents. Federal regulations require that Top Secret documents be pulverized to 0.9 x 4.2 millimeters, the smallest size required for classified documents. Because this size of pulverized paper cannot be recycled, it must be combined with other solid waste and landfilled. This adds to operational costs for the collection, transport, and disposal of pulverized paper, and it directly conflicts with DoD’s aggressive sustainability policies.
This project will demonstrate and validate the cost-effective utilization of pulverized classified paper waste as an organic soil amendment for rehabilitation of severely disturbed training lands. Objectives include demonstrating improved vegetative cover and soil and plant health using pulverized paper as a soil amendment, validating the economic benefits of this utilization versus current practices for waste and training land management, assessing potential contaminants and identifying potential restrictions, and developing user guidelines for transfer of this technology to end users. This project not only addresses a unique Department of Defense (DoD) problem in managing large volumes of classified paper wastes, but also addresses several high priority Army environmental requirements in a cost-effective manner.

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Technology Description

Previously overlooked as a carbon source for degraded soils, pulverized classified paper material could improve sustainability initiatives implemented by DoD by improving training land conditions and diverting a significant waste stream from landfills. Pulverized paper, which typically has a carbon:nitrogen (C:N) ratio of around 85, is an ideal source of organic matter to rehabilitate damaged soils and support native vegetation. The C:N ratio of organic matter amendments is important in determining suitability. Manures and yard wastes with C:N ratios less than 30 have high nitrogen availability, which encourages invasive plant growth. Wood, straw, sucrose, and high carbon wastes have C:N ratios above 30, and they can immobilize enough nitrogen to allow native vegetation to dominate seeded sites. The premise behind the technology to be demonstrated is simple: degraded soils lack sufficient organic matter to sustain desirable vegetation for mitigating erosion and rehabilitating degraded training lands.

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This project will provide a unique solution for reuse of pulverized classified documents. As DoD is the largest United States producer of classified documents, providing an alternative to landfilling this pulverized paper will result in reduced operational costs while simultaneously supporting objectives and goals first articulated in the FY 2012 DoD Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan, which seeks to minimize and optimally manage solid wastes through reduced usage of printing paper and a 50% diversion of non-hazardous solid waste from the waste stream to beneficial reuse by FY 2015. The successful mitigation of erosion and rehabilitation of DoD training ranges will ensure continued use for critical training of the Warfighter. (Anticipated Project Completion - 2017)

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Points of Contact

Principal Investigator

Dr. Ryan Busby


Phone: 217-373-7296

Program Manager

Resource Conservation and Resiliency