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How will the Army feed its BigBelly?

Big Belly Solar Compator army.jpg

Dec. 5, 2012: Rich Valcourt checks on a BigBelly solar-powered waste disposal unit at Natick Soldier Systems Center, Mass. NSSC has 12 of the units positioned across the installation. (Bob Reinert, USAG Natick)

To reduce, reuse and recycle, the U.S. Army plans to start stuffing its BigBelly.

The Net Zero Strategy is the cornerstone lf the Army’s commitment to go green, a plan to ensure the future Army has the same access to energy, water, land and natural resources as today’s. NetZero has five key components: reduction, re-purpose, energy recovery and disposal, recycling and composting.

Enter BigBelly.

Formally known as the BigBelly Solar Intelligent Waste and Recycling Collection System, it’s a compactor powered by solar panels that can contain as much as 150 gallons of trash thanks to its self-compacting mechanism.

According to the manufacturer, it can hold five times more trash than your standard bin.

As early as 2008, Georgia’s Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem rolled out BigBellies. Now Natick Soldier Systems Center in Massachusetts, home to innovation for the soldier, has also converted to BigBelly, purchasing twelve.

NSSC aims to give soldiers the best equipment in the world, focusing on developing advanced food, clothing, shelters and airdrop systems.

While Natick may be one of the smallest Army installations, it still has a whopping 78 acres. At the end of last year, it distributed the units throughout this expanse to collect waste.

Natick also purchased two indoor BigBellies that plug into electrical outlets instead of using the sun for power.

The model Natick has purchased weighs 170 pounds and can contain 50 gallons of waste.

Feeding the beast
Solar panels on the exterior continuously charge the battery during the day. The batteries allow a unit to function for more than three days without direct sunlight.

These batteries power the sensors, compacting and wireless communications.

Inside a BigBelly, sensors detect how full the container and trigger a compaction cycle. Each unit can tell its operator how many times it has compacted, when it is close to full and when it is indeed full.

A BigBelly owner can monitor how often each unit is opened and compacted, which are used most frequently, along with other statistics from his or her computer.

Each unit communicates with servers over cellular networks that transfer the data updates to the CLEAN Management Console. It can even provide real-time data by satellite, where it can be monitored by a standard computer.

Made in the USA at sites in Kentucky and Vermont, the BigBelly exterior is made from recycled U.S. steel and recycled plastics, such as leftover cuttings from the disposable diaper manufacturing process.

The BigBelly advantage
In the civilian space, the company’s research suggests that more than $2,000 annually can be shaved off collection with each trash receptacle in a downtown area.

Rather than crews emptying bins that are only partially full, the status reports BigBelly provides means crews can conserve time and effort by limiting collection to bins that are confirmed full by the system.

Cities like Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and others now use the technology to collect all of their waste.  This smart approach means the Army, not to mention the rest of the military, can save money and better allocate resources, while reducing their carbon footprint.

Natick is a research and development facility with a laboratory that uses hazardous materials, so it also has particular environmental challenges. A new "Green Team" intends to introduce certified "Green Laboratories" and "Green Offices" for the center.

The goal for Army-wide Net Zero Energy installations: producing as much energy on site as it uses over the course of a year.

Now THAT’s going green.

Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at wargames@foxnews.com or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.