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Sustainability Solutions No. 8 Greening Fire Waste

Photo of pallets of bottled water.
Figure 1—Pallets of bottled water at the View Lake
Fire Complex in Oregon during 2010 fire season.
Fewer pallets of bottled beverages (figure 1) may be needed in fire camps if the work of the Western Collective proves successful.

And fewer plastic buckets may be carrying meals to spike camps if approaches being developed by the Missoula Technology and Development Center (MTDC) prove successful.

The Western Collective combines resources from regions 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and the Rocky Mountain Research Station to foster sustainable operations. During the 2011 fire season, members of the Western Collective hope to work with pilot Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3 incident management teams to accomplish two main objectives:

  • Reduce the use of bottled beverages whenever possible
  • Audit waste streams (figure 2) in fire camps to find ways to reduce waste

Photo of a woman performing a waste stream audit at a fire camp.
Figure 2—Katie Newcomb, region 6 sustainability
specialist, helps perform a waste stream audit at the
Oak Flat Fire in Oregon during the 2010 fire season.
During the first fire of the 2011 season, the pilot teams will help determine a fire camp baseline for use of bottled beverages and the generation of waste (figure 3). During the rest of the fire season, the goal will be for the pilot teams to reduce the use of bottled beverages whenever possible.
Photo of a dumpster full of garbage and in the background are tents set up at a fire camp.
Figure 3—A dumpster full of fire waste at a Bighorn
National Forest fire camp during the 2006 fire season.

Firefighters will still be getting the safe water they need to do their jobs. Rather than drinking commercially bottled water, many firefighters working for the pilot teams will fill their canteens from larger refillable containers or water tenders (figure 4).

"Sometimes bottled beverages will still be necessary," said Thomas Fuchtman, assistant fire management officer for the Santa Fe National Forest and a member of the Western Collective. "Firefighters' health and safety is our main concern."

For more information on the Western Collective's ongoing projects, contact Thomas Fuchtman (575–289–3264, or Jennifer Letz, sustainable operations specialist (541–383–5557,

Photo of a water truck, with text on the truck that reads, For drinking water use only.
Figure 4—Firefighters refilled their canteens from
a water tender at the Rooster Rock Fire in Oregon
during 2010 fire season.

At MTDC, John Smith, an equipment specialist, is trying to improve on the practice of delivering meals and beverages to spike camps in 5-gallon plastic buckets (called hot cans) that are sometimes reused for other tasks but are often disposed after a single use.

Photo of a cardboard beverage container.
Figure 5—A beverage container
set up to dispense fruit punch.

One approach being studied would deliver beverages in 3½-gallon recyclable cardboard cartons (figure 5)  with disposable plastic bladders. Not only does that approach eliminate wasting plastic buckets, but the containers (figure 6) are much more compact for shipping. A shipping pallet holds 240 beverage container kits with cardboard cartons and plastic bladders, compared to just 27 beverage container kits with plastic buckets.

A similar system for delivering hot food is under development. Smith plans to continue testing alternative food and drink delivery systems during the 2011 fire season.

Photo of three men transporting cardboard water containers on a cart.
Figure 6—Beverage containers ready for shipping to
a spike camp on the La Brea Fire in California during
the 2009 fire season.

For more information on MTDC's ongoing project to improve food and drink delivery, contact John Smith (406–829–6793,

We're interested in what is happening on your unit. Contact Bob Beckley ( at 406–329–3996 to share your sustainability solutions with others in the Forest Service.