29 October, 1999
On to "Trash World". Yesterday I talked about the extensive recycling plan that they have at McMurdo Station. The goal of this plan is to allow people to do scientific research on the frozen continent with a minimum of environmental impact. Of course, when you have as many as 1200 people living in a harsh environment for 6 months, you will have some impact. The area around McMurdo shows the scars of human impact. However, every effort is being made not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Early explorers thought nothing of discarding anything they didn't need. They simply threw it on the ice. Trash that Scott, Shackleton and others left can still be found at sites around Antarctica. Now we call them historical artifacts, but it is really just trash.
I decided to visit the Solid Waste Management Department at McMurdo. So I went to one of the waste meetings and talked to Susie and Cindy who were giving the meeting. They invited me to join the gang at the trash barn. The building is a small warehouse containing equipment and containers to sort the trash. Each morning they go out and locate any full trash containers. The full ones are brought to the barn with a front-end loader for packing for shipment back to the states. All the trash containers should contain ONLY a specific category of trash. Remember those categories I talked about yesterday. However, often (too often) people do not sort the trash correctly. Then the gang at the solid waste department has to resort it. When I got there, they were just filling the plastics baler. This is a large machine that compacts certain plastics into a dense bale for more efficient shipping. I decided to give them a hand. After all, I helped produce the trash, I might as well help recycle it. There should have been only plastics in the boxes we were emptying. This was pretty much true but it was obvious that many people did not make an effort to sort properly. It wasn't a lot of fun picking through other people's trash, but it is necessary if we are going to keep the environment as clean as we can.
After the plastic baling, a load of cardboard came in and we loaded that on a conveyor belt and into a compactor. They also had a machine that crushed glass onto small pieces for shipment in barrels. As I looked around the shed, I saw examples of all the waste produced around Mactown and the field camps. Susie explained some of the procedures that they follow and some of the jobs they do. Then it was time for a break. We went into the heated break room for a cup of coffee and snacks. They had a big box of snacks to eat on their break including bags of chips, candy bars and other wrapped snack foods. They proudly announced that they had recovered all of this food from the trash. Hey, I told you these take their recycling seriously! I had a very delicious break.
Nelson then gave me a ride around Mactown on the front-end loader she was using to pick up trash containers. She showed me where all the large containers are stored until February when they will be loaded on a ship. I also saw the wood chipper and metal compactor. It is a very extensive operation.
I did discovery one very disturbing fact during my visit in Solid Waste Antarctica. I found out that the sewage produced in McMurdo is pumped directly into the Ross Sea with minimum treatment. I found this very contradictory compared to how hard they work to minimize pollution in other ways. It would be very expensive to treat or recover the sewage in this cold environment. Perhaps there are some plans to do this in the future.
My visit to "Trash World" at McMurdo was very instructive and I want to thank all those hard working people over there! I think I will be a little more careful when I throw stuff away while I am on the ice and at home as well. How about you?
We had a bit of a storm yesterday. The visibility was limited so they declared a "Condition 2". I will fill you in on what that means next week when I talk about weather forecasting in Antarctica. I am going to a Sea Ice Training session tomorrow. I will be spending most of the day on the frozen (I hope) Ross Sea. Should be fun. The forecast is for temperatures about 10F and wind-chills in the -25F range. Another beautiful day. I won't be posting a journal tomorrow. See you in couple of days.
(By the way, if any teacher would like a complete list of the McMurdo Recycling Categories and explanations, e-mail me and I will send you an MS Word document with the information.)
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