Seed-embedded bullets sprouting flowers: Can the US Army make that a reality?

The army is seeking a proposal for biodegradable ammunition that will not corrode and pollute soil and water.

Maya Alleruzzo/AP
A US Army soldier from 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga., removes bullets from his comrades' magazines in this 2010 photo.

The US Army is trying to create a whole new job title: environmentalist arms dealer.

Defense is a messy business, and part of that mess is the detritus left behind by the millions of shells fired during training alone. Munitions tend to degrade slowly, and when they do the materials inside can have all kinds of unwanted environmental effects. 

A new army brief seeks to solve this problem, calling for a contractor who can develop a new kind of material that works as well as lead and traditional metals, but is embedded with seeds that will leave behind a splash of life once the ammo is spent.

Citing the US Army Corps of Engineers’ progress in developing bioengineered seeds that can survive being embedded in materials and still germinate during decomposition months later, the army aims to encourage the invention of a medium that can be used to manufacture bullets and other ammunition. The hope is that after firing the rounds could be left in the ground to eventually break apart and spawn flowers, or other animal-friendly plants.

Currently, many casings are collected for recycling but that often isn’t the case with the bullets themselves. As a result, army facilities make up almost 70 percent of the 1,300 most polluted locations in the country, according to CNN. In addition to discarded ammunition, chemical leaks and burning explosives at modern sites produce toxic waste, and heavy metal deposits cause lead pollution.

Lead poisoning can result when metal from ammunition leaches into the environment. “The lead in ammunition tends to build up over years and it can leach into groundwater and pose threats to wildlife," Skip Kazmarek, an environmental lawyer who has studied military sites told CNN. "You could improve environmental quality with a change from lead bullets."

Meanwhile, millions of lead bullets are reportedly fired each year at military firing ranges alone.

The army’s motivation is financial, as well as environmental. The Department of Defense estimates that cleaning up all its sites could cost between $16 and $165 billion. That upper limit would represent over a quarter of the 2015 budget for the entire military.

America isn’t the only country interested in cleaning up its act. Canada is also in the process of developing greener bullets. Rather than a seed-studded supermaterial, the new munitions explode more completely and contain less toxic materials. Originally intended for training, the new rounds could become standard issue because they are cheaper and more effective than what’s currently used, according to Vice News.

But unintended consequences have muddled similar efforts by the US Army in the past. Army officials introduced lead-free bullets at Camp Edwards in the late 1990’s, but new science in the early 2000’s suggested that the alternative metal tungsten was a risk to aquifers as well.  

"It's frustrating," Col. William FitzPatrick of the National Guard's Environmental Readiness Center told CBS in 2002. "You're doing what you think are the right things. As science evolves, you wonder, 'Am I in front of the curve, or behind?'"

But the new initiative goes beyond merely swapping one metal for another. The army envisions embedded seeds consuming the munitions material, leaving behind little trace of the original bullet.

The “solicitation” seeks a small business to partner with for a three-step process of development, testing, and fabrication. The application period ends next Wednesday.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Seed-embedded bullets sprouting flowers: Can the US Army make that a reality?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today