How GIS Can Facilitate the Department of Defense’s Waste Management Efficiency

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The Department of Defense (DOD) utilizes a wide variety of equipment to accomplish the robust number of responsibilities it’s tasked with. As both technology improves and mission sets change, some of the equipment that was actively utilized is deemed obsolete and is discarded along with general waste items that accompany that equipment (In this instance recyclable plastic/paper packaging and containers for individual items). This leads into the current problem the DOD faces, which is how they are to discard their old equipment efficiently and properly, while also maintaining focus on their current task list. The result of this is different units within the DOD taking a “store and forget it” approach where obsolete equipment and general waste are stored in large metal containers to be dealt with as someone else’s problem. The “store and forget it” approach isn’t generally done with malicious intent, but because there is a genuine lack of understanding of where to turn in certain equipment or where equipment is physically located. Although GIS can’t solve this problem for the DOD, it can certainly help with the process.

            The first aspect of GIS that can help in waste management/turn in process for the DOD is probably the easiest, outlining where certain turn in points are and routes to get there. These can be applied for both routine tasks and larger operations where a unit has decided to block time off in their schedule to devote to eliminating waste that they are currently holding. Although DOD installations designate turn-in points to facilitate waste elimination, usually each point can only take a certain type of waste. This can lead to confusion and frustration if someone arrives at a turn in point to learn the place that accepts the items they are carrying is on the other side of the installation. This frustration can easily be avoided by the creation and dissemination of color-coded route maps, that correlate to the type of waste to be turned in. As shown below, this map created in QGIS can easily be altered for specific units on installation and for different types of turn in points.

A street map with different colored routes on top of it.
Above: An example of a simple color coordinated route map. Map: Joshua Meehan.

 The second aspect of GIS that can help in the waste management/turn in process, is the continuity of information of where equipment is stored and the ability to share that information. As mentioned before, sometimes units take the “store and forget it” approach which causes a loss of information of what is stored where over time. GIS’s ability to store data as point information can help with this.

An owning unit of the container can plot the containers’ location in point data utilizing QGIS over an overlay and then have pictures associated with the point data that shows what the outside and inside of the container looks like. The plotting of the containers location on an overlay is more reliable than google maps satellite imagery of the container because the container may be moved before the satellite takes a new picture of the container in its new location. The combination of these two pieces of information, where the container is and what it looks like, helps with the unit’s organization and the prevention of the loss of that information between turnover of personnel. Ultimately, the ability to disseminate this information quicky and accurately to outside organizations can increase the efficiency of equipment/waste turn in. 

An aerial with a few blocks highlighted in red.
Highlighted Areas with Containers of Prioritization Marked as Point Data Utilizing QGIS. Map: Joshua Meehan.

The DOD contracts out civilian agencies to arrive to specific unit locations to assist with both obsolete equipment turn in and general waste elimination. This process can be lengthy though as the agency works through the unit hierarchy to determine who to talk to about specifics of equipment types and locations. To help with this process, units can give the point data captured on GIS to the DOD officials responsible for contracting out to the civilian agencies. This gives the DOD officials an ability to decide what units are in priority for the civilian agency services (i.e. the unit with pictures and locations of five overflowing 20ft containers of 70’s era equipment) and to give the civilian agencies a general snapshot of what equipment they will probably need (hauling assets) and who they need to contact for more detailed information before showing up on site. 

Left image is the outside of an off-white trash container.  Right is a picture of the inside of the container with trash inside.
Utilizing the actions feature on QGIS, one can click on each point data point to get a quick outside (Left) and inside (Right) view of the container. Photos: Joshua Meehan.

The DOD’s waste management efficiency problem can’t be fixed with GIS alone, but GIS can be used as a tool to reach a solution. The use of mapping different routes to certain turn in locations can prevent unneeded headaches by individuals when trying to get ahead of the problem. While the utilization of point data can prevent information loss and enable decision making by providing a widespread dissemination of accurate waste/equipment locations. Although GIS can be used as a tool, it is to be understood, for it to be effectively utilized the data would have to be updated in a timely manner. Inadequately reflecting new changes of equipment locations or route descriptions causes the potential for the GIS products to become obsolete themselves.  

About the Author

Joshua Meehan has been an active duty Army Officer in the U.S. Corps of Engineers since 2017 with a Bachelors in Civil Engineering, currently pursing a masters in Geological Engineering.

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