Putting combat rations packaging on a diet

By Bob Reinert, USAG-Natick Public AffairsSeptember 23, 2013

Putting combat rations packaging on a diet
Lauri Kline, with the Advanced Materials Engineering Team with the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, Mass., conducts rain testing on packaging materials in the Doriot ... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

NATICK, Mass. (Sept. 23, 2013) -- When it comes to combat rations packaging, Lauri Kline would like to put the Defense Department on something of a diet.

Kline, project officer and packaging scientist for the Advanced Materials Engineering Team with the DOD Combat Feeding Directorate at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center here, has been working on incorporating alternative materials for the pallets, stretch wrap and carton straps for the millions of cases of Meals, Ready to Eat, or MREs, annually provided to service members overseas.

"We consume so many rations, there's obviously packaging waste," Kline said. "So that's what my team is trying to address.

"The overall goal is to develop more environmentally friendly, cost-effective packaging material alternatives that will meet our operational and performance requirements but also reduce weight, waste and logistical burden on the warfighter. The military generates a lot of waste due to ration packaging -- over 14,000 tons a year -- we're trying to cut down on that."

Combat Feeding is collaborating with the Doriot Climatic Chambers at NSRDEC and with the Army Logistics Support Agency's Packaging, Storage, and Containerization Center on the ambitious Combat Feeding Research and Engineering Program's four-year project, "Sustainable Technologies for Ration Packaging Systems," now in its third year.

"You want to maintain or increase performance, integrity and functionality but decrease weight, density and footprint to reduce the overall amount of packaging waste in the field," Kline said. "That's the goal of many of our projects."

The program seeks to minimize overall packaging material use, the use of petroleum-based plastics, and environmental impact.

"This will also reduce transportation, disposal and life cycle costs in the end," Kline said.

Tens of thousands of wooden pallets are used each year by the U.S. military. They could be replaced or supplemented by lightweight corrugated pallets that would reduce shipping costs, increase the quantity of rations delivered, and decrease fuel consumption.

"These recyclable and compostable pallets are commercially available," said Kline, "so we have already procured some and have been testing them over the last two years."

According to Kline, 28 corrugated pallets weigh approximately 370 pounds, compared to 1,120 pounds for the same number of wooden pallets.

"That's a huge difference -- about 750 pounds of additional weight per truckload," Kline said.

Kline and her team are also investigating bio-based and biodegradable plastics and recyclable paper strapping for ration cases, and lower-density stretch wrap with microspheres for the pallet loads.

"We're going to be doing some focus groups with the warfighters to find out what they think of these concepts," said Kline, adding that the hope is to "transition one, two or three of the successful technologies to the warfighter."

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