U.S. Army Wants To Turn Bullets Into Plants

With biodegradable bullets, soldiers can help the planet while they shoot

Photo Illustration: Diana Quach
Jan 09, 2017 at 12:45 PM ET

In an irony to end all ironies, the U.S. Army apparently wants to shoot life-giving bullets that grow into environmentally-friendly plants.

The Department of Defense is currently in the market for “biodegradable composites with embedded seeds for training ammunition,” according to a proposal solicitation from the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) agency, a government program that links small businesses with federal programs. Motherboard, which first noticed the solicitation, notes it sounds like an idea for a bad Banksy painting.

The SBIR post notes that the U.S. army manufactures and consumes “hundreds of thousands of training rounds” that are fired into the air without any clear plan for ensuing discovery and elimination of the materials left over. As a result, projectiles, cartridge cases, and sabot petals end up embedded in the ground, sometimes several feet under.

The release highlights that these leftover materials “might have the potential corrode and pollute the soil and nearby water,” and cause undue confusion to civilians that encounter them, which is as good a reminder as any that the U.S. military doesn’t really have the best track record with properly discarding training materials. The Environmental Protection Agency notes that fatalities and injuries have been incurred from accidental exposure to leftover military munitions, as well as chemical exposures associated with health effects.

Given these potentially harmful consequences, which have been apparently overlooked thus far, the proposition of naturally eroding army training waste products makes sense. But the added component of germinating plants (that grow from seeds created in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory) seems a little excessive, albeit totally public relations-friendly.