Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Portsmouth, Virginia

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Bioreactor Composter
PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Lt. Cmdr. Dave Obermeier, a facilities engineer from Coast Guard Base Portsmouth, adds water to the bioreactor composter at the base galley, April 25, 2011. The bioreactor, which feeds nutrients to a garden behind the galley, is part of their green initiatives aimed at increasing sustainability and use of renewable energy. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class David Marin.

Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class David Marin, public affairs specialist.

Since the early 1980s members of Coast Guard Base Support Unit Portsmouth have been pushing to lessen their fuel and energy consumption by implementing a series of projects aimed at increasing sustainability and using renewable energy.

“I am proud to say, that every day is Earth Day at base Portsmouth,” said Lt. Cmdr. Dave Obermeier, the facilities engineer with the Facilities Engineering Division. “In the past year, we have completed a number of projects that lighten our footprint on this planet.”

Bioreactor Composter
PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Gene Leonard and Lt. Cmdr. Dave Obermeier, both facilities engineers from Coast Guard Base Portsmouth, discuss the bioreactor composter, April 25, 2011. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class David Marin.

Bioreactor composter

Of the many green projects being done, the most recent is the installment and use of a bioreactor composter that resembles a large ice machine.

“The food is slowly spun around and the pellets work like teeth grinding down the food,” said Obermeier. “We add enzymes and bacteria to help break down the food.”

With the capacity to break down as much as 600 pounds of food waste a day, the newly installed composter can break down more food than the entire base can deposit on any given day. As of now the galley and the on-base restaurant dump all their food waste into the composter. The hope is to have all the cutters involved in composting their food when they are in port, said Obermeier.

“When food goes to a landfill, it often decomposes anaerobically into toxic gases of methane and hydrogen sulfide,” said Obermeier. “We’ve installed a bioreactor composter in our galley to eliminate the food waste stream and to use it to assist us in our garden.”

The enriched water from the composter is collected in a tank and eventually works its way behind the galley to the soil of a garden planted by the engineers.

Rain Garden
PORTSMOUTH, Va. – This Coast Guard Base Portsmouth rain garden helps filter the groundwater and conserve municipal water resources by reducing the need for irrigation. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class David Marin.

Rain gardens

In addition to the garden being fed by the composter, there are four rain gardens on the property.

“The rain gardens are built in the lower lying grounds a little before the storm drains,” said Gene Leonard, the facilities manager with the Facilities Engineering Division. “The gardens help filter the groundwater and conserves municipal water resources by reducing the need for irrigation.”

The process of filtering rain water is also aided by the addition of permeable pavers, which allow rain to percolate through them and into the soil.

“The pavers were added in various locations throughout the base where a hard surface was required,” said Keith Beko, a quality assurance specialist. “They’re used in lieu of standard non-porous surfaces to reduce storm water run-off.”

Other conservation projects

Many of the projects began in the early 1980s and continue to be worked on, added to and improved.

The first major green initiative on base began in 1982 with the installation of solar thermal arrays to the gym. Ten years later solar panels were added to the Naval Engineering Support Unit’s building and since have been expanded.

Solar Array
PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Gene Leonard and Petty Officer 3rd Class Seth Gans discuss the solar thermal arrays that heat the water used in the Naval Engineering Support Unit's building at Coast Guard Base Portsmouth, April 25, 2011. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class David Marin.

“The solar thermal system takes the place of a hot water heater,” said Beko. “So now we don’t use any electricity to heat our water. We use the system to heat our shower’s water and to augment our building’s heat.”

“We’ve quadrupled the size of our solar thermal array at the Naval Engineering Support Unit,” added Obermeier. “That will greatly reduce the amount of fuel oil required to provide heat and hot water”

The Coast Guard has saved $4,851 since the panels were added to the gym and $12,175 since they were added to the naval engineering building.

“The solar thermal system cut our costs in half the first year we added them,” Beko said. “That first year we saved $2,000 on the heating costs of one building and $1,500 at the other building. It more than paid for itself.”

Another project the base became involved with was a forestation initiative in partnership with the Elizabeth River Project. During the past 13 years the Coast Guard has planted approximately 35 trees on a designated part of the base and continues to add to it. The latest addition was a butterfly garden planted Earth Day 2011.

Earth Day might only come around once a year, but Portsmouth Coast Guard members are taking steps to lighten their footprint every day.

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