Pulverized Paper as a Soil Carbon Source for Degraded Training Lands

Dr. Ryan Busby | U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center – Construction Engineering Research Laboratory

RC-201416

Objectives of the Demonstration

This report summarizes a project to demonstrate and validate the utilization of pulverized classified paper waste as a soil amendment to improve degraded training lands. Military training lands are often lacking in soil organic matter, which improves water infiltration and nutrient and moisture retention. Further, when these lands are disturbed, nutrient availability favors weed establishment and makes restoration to desirable native plant communities difficult. High carbon (C) wastes are able to alleviate these problems but due to cost and availability are often not feasible. Federal regulations require that classified paper be pulverized to very small fragments, which negates their recyclability. As this material is currently landfilled, a beneficial reuse of this waste material is not only advantageous to training land management but supports NetZero Waste initiatives as well.

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Technology Description

Initial characterization of paper indicated virtually no contaminant presence and no adverse effects from land application at high rates. The demonstration sites were located at Fort Polk, LA, on two of the most common soil types occurring on military training lands. Paper was collected and stored at Fort Polk, weighed to achieve specific application rates, and applied to the demonstration sites in spring 2016. At the first site, rates of 8, 16, 24, and 32 tons acre-1 were applied, along with a control and a standard practice plot consisting of lime and fertilizer. Due to the difficulty in incorporating the highest two rates, the application rates were halved at the second site. Each site consisted of four blocks, with each respective treatment replicated in each block. Paper was incorporated into the soil, and sites were seeded with standard native warm season prairie grasses. At the end of each growing season, plant species cover and composition, standing biomass, plant and soil nutrient analysis, soil metal analysis, and soil pH and bulk density data were collected.  

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Demonstration Results

Paper application rate was positively correlated with native plant cover, deficient plant and soil nutrient concentrations, and soil pH, and negatively correlated with invasive plant cover and biomass and soil bulk density. Native plant cover was 45% higher at the highest paper application rates compared to controls, and most planted grass nutrient concentrations increased with increasing paper application rate. No US Environmental Protection Agency-regulated contaminants for land application of wastes increased in any capacity with increasing paper application rate.

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Implementation Issues

Based on the results of this project, pulverized paper can be safely applied to degraded training lands to improve establishment of desirable vegetation without any discernable negative consequences. Due to difficulties in incorporating high rates, the recommended application rate is 16 tons acre-1. When combining cost savings associated with landfill disposal of the paper with savings achieved from greater land rehabilitation success, an estimated $300 per ton of diverted paper is realized. At the recommended application rate, this results in a cost savings of approximately $4,700 per acre. At the installation level, this equates to an estimated annual cost savings of $20,000 with 70 tons of paper diverted from landfills.

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Points of Contact

Principal Investigator

Dr. Ryan Busby

U.S. Army ERDC-CERL

Phone: 217-373-7296

Program Manager

Resource Conservation and Resiliency

SERDP and ESTCP

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