Where does ammo go when it dies?

When citizens are looking to unload some old ammunition, they can call the local sheriff. But who can the sheriff call?

Jan Griese, supervisor of property and evidence with the Hamilton (Ontario) Police Service recalls facing that dilemma. “Our ERU (SWAT Team) used to take it to a quarry and burn it, but we had trouble getting rid of the waste afterward,” she says. At the time, bomb techs with the police service operated a crude burning rig—a 45-gallon steel bin layered with wood chips, ammo, and then gingerly drizzled with a dose of diesel fuel. Sound familiar?

It wasn’t long before the Minister of the Environment suggested the agency (and others in the region) find a safer way to rid themselves of rounds. “[ERU] might contain it, or it might just pop off and they’d have to clean [it] up the next day,” remembers Tom Braithwaite, then a civilian employee with the agency. “I told our guys at the time they hadn’t fixed anything here; the Ministry’s still going to shut you down … why don’t you just go buy a good burner? And they said to me ‘Well, nobody makes a good burner.’”

So Braithwaite figured he would. He’s now president and chief operating officer of Canadian Ammunition Disposal Services (C.A.D.S.) and TWB Designs (a sister company to CADS), having developed the Environmental Mobile Ammunition Combustion System—or eMACS—in 2001. In 2011 the burner was a Cygnus Law Enforcement Group Innovation Awards finalist. The buzz is picking up as agencies across Canada and the United States discover the new “no muss, no fuss” system of safely disposing of live ammunition.

The mobile fire pit

“I’m very proud of it; I’ve got my heart and soul in this thing and I know every nut and bolt on it,” says Braithwaite. He partnered with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Ottawa to develop a “better burner.” Hunkered down at the drawing boards with bomb techs and end-users, he began by taking requests: It needed to be portable and propane-fired. It needed to do a batch-feed, and have a quick turnaround to boot (about an hour). It had to be remotely activated, and of course, have a small footprint.

The eMACS burner was designed as an affordable and compact means of disposing up to 60 pounds of ammunition per hour, at one time. Its enclosed design enhances safety in a big way during the thermal process; it also ensures that any particulate released during the burning inside the chamber is eliminated before venting to the outside atmosphere. The eMACS promises not only quick disposal, but quick disposal in accordance with provincial laws. It currently exceeds California, EPA, NATO and EU standards. It is also endorsed by the Natural Resources Canada. “Just the environmental aspect of it is good,” Griese says. “We feel comfortable that we’re not putting things into the air that shouldn’t be. It’s safe, and service has been top-notch.”

Braithwaite says the units can process 100 pounds at a time (but it’s tougher on the trays) and a possible 1,000 pounds per day in eight to twelve loads. The lead separates from the brass when the cycle is complete, ready for recycling. After burning, users can recycle the yellow brass in the trays as well as the clean ingot of lead below. It works out to about $1 per pound; at 1,000 pounds processed, an agency can potentially make $1,000 per day. With a per-day diesel fuel cost of $90, the unit could essentially pay for itself in time.

The very first MACS burner was made entirely of wood. Braithwaite jokes this unit will hopefully turn up in his museum some day. After the RCMP approved of the prototype, they gave the go-ahead and he built a steel structure. “We … did our very first test burn, and it worked phenomenally well,” he says. “So we’ve just modified the tray systems and different types of burners to get a little more efficiency out of it, and really since the very first one that’s all we’ve done to it. It’s worked well right from the start.”

Bullets and fireworks and flares ...

When an agency stockpiles a good amount of rounds, they can schedule the eMACS truck to come do a pick up. The Peel Regional Police Service in Ontario has used Braithwaite’s burner since 2009. They’re often left wondering what to do with ammo acquired from seizures, training and stuff that is—for one reason or another—turned in by the public. When you consider anyone can turn in anything at any time—it adds up. Peel is the third largest municipal police department in Canada, with close to 2,000 officers.

The eMACS is not ammunition-exclusive. In addition to shotgun and .22 shells it can make easy work of pyrotechnics, firecrackers, pepper spray cans, marine flares and more. Peel Police Service Staff Sgt. Larry Walker did his share of research before deciding on eMACS. Now they call up Braithwaite when they need to dispose of “everything up to 50 caliber.”

In 2010 C.A.D.S. disposed of 1,270 pounds of ammo for the Peel Police Service, plus 250 marine flares. In 2011, ammo fell to 700 pounds but flares jumped to 1,030 (likely to an increased promotion of the flare program within yacht and boating clubs). “[Flare disposal’s] been a problem for many, many years,” says Walker. “There’s no real set way of doing it. A lot of places in the U.S. and in Canada basically tell boaters just go to your local police and turn them in, but they’re not really equipped to take them. [Tom] charges per flare and he charges per pound for the actual ammunition disposal, but it’s certainly cost-effective for us.”

Good work for a good reason

The eleven existing eMACS systems mostly serve law enforcement in Canada; one resides in Australia and one more was shipped out to Dubai PD. Braithwaite is now concentrating on the United States and beyond, armed with an upgraded filtration system, and having EPA and NATO requirements under his belt. In the states, C.A.D.S. has partnered with representatives of the Wounded Warrior Project to help military vets find jobs doing disposal work with the eMACS. So far, it’s been a successful endeavor. “The marines that come back from Afghanistan … if they have an injury, they’re partially blind or they’re deaf … and they can’t go back to being a bomb tech, those are the people we hire,” says Braithwaite. “They love that they can still do what they love to do and we understand their situation.”

According to Braithwaite, the eMACS concept was a hard-sell at first. But now almost everyone in Southern Ontario is either using the service, or is at least interested in learning more about it.

The bullet-burning business on wheels is easy to use, versatile and thorough in what it does, but it’s likely agencies using the service most appreciate the fact that it offers a clean alternative to an old dilemma. The “new kid in town” meets agencies’ efforts to be efficient, safe and environmentally conscious.

Where does ammo go when it dies? Let’s take a look at the possibilities …