Just wondering about this recently -

An army must create a lot of rubbish. Disposable food packaging, ammunition packaging and shell cases, etc.

How did militaries dispose of rubbish during WWII?

Specifically, I'm wondering about:

  • Large gun shell casing in navies. Perhaps it was more important to recycle this stuff?
  • Naval garbage disposal in general - (is there a bunch of garbage at the bottom of the ocean?)
  • Individual soldier's ration packaging.

There's a couple of aspects I'm interested in:

  • Recycling. I imagine some things it was more important to recycle, but also, sounds like a logistical nightmare.
  • Safety - I imagine a garbage dump might pose operational security/safety issues.
  • Environmentalism - though I imagine this wasn't a consideration.
  • 4
    "Is there a bunch of garbage at the bottom of the ocean?" -- Oh, but yes! Bismarck, Hood, Scharnhorst, Glorious, and many, many more.... you think they cared one bit about waste dumps, other than "make it sink so it does not tip off the enemy about our presence"? -- Ration packs and other combustible waste was (and is, to this day) readily used as fuel for campfires.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 10:49
  • Related question on Quora
    – DevSolar
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 11:00
  • Large naval guns would have been separate loading, with shells and bagged powder charges. The charges sometimes came in leather or sheet metal containers for handling, but much less substantial than a shell casing.
    – o.m.
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 17:13
  • At the end of the war, lots of material on various islands was either just left there, or bulldozed into the sea as not worth spending time (or shipping) to get it somewhere else.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 18:42
  • 2
    You might like the book: "Aftermath:The Remnants of War" by Donovan Webster which discusses the long-term impact of modern war on the environment. Commented Jul 2, 2020 at 19:38

1 Answer 1


This source claims that aircraft operators literally dumped their human waste outside of the aircraft through a tube.

Large gun shell casing largely got recycled. The 1944, 1945 and 1946 US cents were made from recycled shell casings that were salvaged.

Naval garbage was largely dumped into the sea (that includes plastic, paper, and human waste).* Seriously, there's no better way to get rid of it. Have trash with no landfill or incinerator? Dump it!

Army rations were generally in reusable containers, so little waste resulted. However, waste was dumped on the battlefield if necessary. (Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/2vqcbt/how_did_a_german_soldiers_diet_evolve_over_the/)

Environmentalism wasn't a concern. Who cares when you're in the deadliest war in human history?

*Today, the navy is no longer allowed to dump waste into the ocean. A few years ago, several sailors were prosecuted for illegal dumping of waste into the sea. **The military is concerned about the environment today, but not 80 years ago.

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