Story by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Jiang

PACIFIC OCEAN – Waste management at sea isn’t as easy as putting out a bin on garbage day or taking trash to the nearest dumpster. If not taken care of properly rubbish can lead to unsanitary living conditions on the ship and cause environmental harm.

The unenviable but vital job of processing trash for USS John C. Stennis’ (CVN 74) crew falls to a handful of their shipmates.

“The ship produces a lot of trash; it is our job to process and dispose of it in accordance with both Environmental Protection Agency and Navy regulations,” said Machinist Mate 2nd Class Brandon Longmire, from Bridge City, Texas. “It’s not the most glorious job out there but someone has to do it.”

Waste management is a work center in Engineering Department’s Auxillaries Division and is made up of six machinist’s mates and temporarily assigned duty (TAD) Sailors. The machinist’s mates maintain the equipment and provide leadership to the TAD Sailors working in one of Stennis’ four waste processing rooms as trash processors.

“Each trash bag is anywhere from 10 to 40 pounds and we can take 15 to 25 bags at the end of every meal,” said Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Nicholas Long, from Lancaster, Penn. “We process between 200 to 300 pounds of food a day.”

That 300 pounds of food a day, in addition to the rest of the trash Stennis produces, falls into one of four waste categories: pulpables, burnables, metals and plastics. Each category has an appropriate waste processing room where it is processed in an appropriate manner.

Food waste is pulped and discharged once the ship is farther than three nautical miles from shore.

Burnables include paper, cloth, rags and wood, and are burned in the incinerators in waste rooms five and six once the ship is more than 12 nautical miles from shore.

Plastic materials are shredded and melted into pucks, then held onboard until they can be disposed of at the next port call or replenishment at sea.

Metals and glass are shredded and thrown overboard in a burlap sack to biodegrade on the ocean floor.

There are items classified as unprocessable and held on the ship until they can be properly disposed of at an on-shore facility. These include Styrofoam, Plexiglas and hazardous waste.

“It’s important to sort your trash … for the environment,” said Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Julio Garcia, from Red Rock, Ariz. “It can break our machines if you put the wrong type of trash in.”

Two or three TAD Sailors at a time stand watches in each trash room for 13-hour shifts. There is always someone manning the trash room.

“It is our TAD personnel who are the real heroes on the front lines,” said Longmire. “We’re just thankful for the dumpsters on the pier.”