U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY – When the words to dump sinkable trash passes over the ship’s mass communication system, the crew of the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5) clean house. For the Sailors and Marines assigned to the ship’s environmental division, it means it’s time to get to work.
Piled high in a small crammed room, bags of trash stack up on station as these service members, who have the unsavory job of sorting, processing, and disposing of the ship’s garbage, break down the mound.
“It’s one of those jobs that people don’t realize how important it is,” said Intelligence Systems Technician Seaman Derek R. Walts, from Hannibal, N.Y., a member of the ship’s plastic compressed melting unit team. “The only way people see how important it is, is when it gets backed up.”
Logistics ensures the ship and crew receives materiel for maritime security operations and regional stability. With its mission-centric supplies and morale boosting consumables, the crew can have items in the form of a variety of food, drinks, and toiletries reminiscent of home.
The items come in different types of packaging that become trash and must be sorted and disposed.
“Everyone needs to pay attention to what trash they put where. Everyone has designated trash for metals, plastics and paper,” said Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Chris Lewis, from San Diego, who works in the pulping room. “I find cans in plastic … plastic in metal. It’s just knowing where you’re putting it.”
The ship uses three methods for disposing trash: plastic processing, pulping, and over- the-side.
Workers grind hard plastics and compact the material into pucks for off-load and disposal ashore.
“We get all of the plastic from the pulping room; we get about 20 or 30 bags at a time that we have to sort into brown bags. Once the compressor is finished we take out the processed puck and pop in one of the brown bags,” said Walts.
“Honestly, you just get use to the smell, sadly enough,” added Walts. Costly damage to equipment can be avoidable through trash separation.
“We have already had to replace blades and belts on the pulper machine, due to people not properly disposing of trash,” said Chief Logistics Specialist William L. Taylor, from Springfield, Ohio, the materiel, hazardous material, postal and environmental divisional leading chief petty officer. “Before you throw anything away look at your tray, then look in the bag and put things in the right place. It’s going to take you a few extra seconds and save the Navy thousands of dollars.”
Wet trash processing requires items that easily break down. The pulper grinds and churns food and paper products for discharge.
“Things that can get jammed in there are bones, metals, large pieces of wood, wiring from electronics that weren’t disposed of properly,” said Taylor. If the pulper becomes non-operational, such as from a jam, the ship would see “a lot of trash and waste quickly build up.”
The pulper room stores trash to be dumped, ground, or separated in the compacting room. Trash personnel help ensure unauthorized trash is not being handled incorrectly or discharged illegally.
“People are supposed to sort it. I open it up and look inside each bag… [if mixed with plastic] … I’ll tell them to go sort it out,” said Lewis.
The final method dumps trash over the side. “Sinkables” go over at the same time as food waste in accordance with environmental regulations, such as metal cans, wood, cardboard, paper, and glass.
The service members assigned to the environmental division also face other unsavory factors.
“If you have a bad habit of dipping – that’s your bad habit. Someone else should not have to clean out your spit bottle because you use smokeless tobacco,” added Taylor. Dippers should be “completely rinse out any container” used and clean it out before throwing away.
“It’s common respect,” said Taylor.
Improper disposal slows down the entire system. It can have adverse affects on the environment and the crew and adds to the daily struggles of the operators who handle the garbage. It’s an all-hands effort to reduce the burden on the environmental division.
“Everyone on the ship needs to understand that when you don’t sort your trash properly, you’re actually hurting the next guy who has to go through and do it for you,” said Taylor.
Peleliu is the flagship for the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group and, with the embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, is deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.