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What We Have Learned From Our Inspections of Incinerators and Use of Burn Pits in Afghanistan: Final Assessment

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its arrival in Afghanistan in 2001, the U.S. military has needed to dispose of solid waste generated by personnel at installations throughout the country. The U.S. military presence in Afghanistan eventually reached a peak of about 110,000 personnel in 2011, which generated about 440 tons of solid waste each day, including plastics, dining facility food, aerosol cans, electronic equipment, furniture, metal containers, tires, and batteries. During most of the first four years of contingency operations in Afghanistan, the U.S. military used open-air burn pits exclusively to dispose of its solid waste. In 2004, the Department of Defense DOD began introducing new solid waste disposal methods in Afghanistan, including landfills and incineration. Although DOD knew about the risks associated with open-air burn pits long before contingency operations began in Afghanistan, 1 it was not until 2009 that U.S. Central Command CENTCOM developed policies and procedures to guide solid waste management, including requirements for operating, monitoring, and minimizing the use of open-air burn pits.2 In April 2010, DOD reported to Congress that open-air burning is the safest, most effective, and most expedient manner of solid waste reduction during military operations until current research and development efforts could produce better alternatives.3 DOD officials added that burn pits are also the most cost-effective waste management practice, but that incinerators are the best alternative. However, the U.S. Government Accountability Office GAO also reported that DOD had not evaluated the costs and benefits of the waste management alternatives and compared them with the costs and benefits of open-air burning, or taken into account all the relevant cost variables, including the impact on the environment and long-term health of service members, civilians, and host country nationals.

Subject Categories:

  • Logistics, Military Facilities and Supplies
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics
  • Solid Wastes and Pollution and Control

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