Author Archive

Chinese trash islands

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

In China, following serious flooding, several cities are now under threat from large islands of trash blocking water flows, potentially causing more flooding. In the city of Baishan, a 160,000 square feet trash island has parked under a bridge. If this floating monument of weirdness isn’t cleared soon, the bridge might collapse, according to the Straits Times.

The Guardian has a picture and a fuller story on the threat at the Three Gorges dam. One can only hope that Chinese authorities have the boldness to rewrite the crisis plan for things-to-do-when-a-flood-comes to include some more garbage workers upstream. Then again, as per usual, the amount of trash to begin with is the problem.

Customer service

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In an opinion piece on food trash, published by the  Stockholm Consumer Cooperative Society, some interesting facts about wasted food are presented. The figures are based on a Swedish study, implying that it is relevant in other western consumer cultures. 50% of the overfeeding of lake- and seawater in Sweden is created by the food industry. At the same time, 40-50% of the global total amount of produced food is wasted. Spooky connection.

According to the piece, what is needed is regulation that improves people’s ability to refrain from throwing out so much that was supposed to be eaten. The solution, according to the writer, is in more efficient cooling, packaging and logistics, to name a few examples.

While these are all excellent ideas, I would hazard a guess that regulation holds little power against changing people’s mindset on what’s foul and what’s edible. The food industry obviously has an interest in selling more food, i.e. their incentive to inform customers that they indeed can eat a “wasted” tomato is small. If they had a change of heart for the greater good, I’d be happier buying their food.

Rant of the month

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Apparently, someone came up with the idea to turn the Great Pacific Garbage Patch into an “eco island“. Blogger Anders Sandberg has a fabulous and well-informed rant on why that is a rather stupid idea. Recommended reading.

Trafigura fined (another) € 1m

Sunday, July 25, 2010

In July 2006 the vessel Probo Koala, owned by international oil company Trafigura, dumped tonnes of hazardous trash outside Abidjan, the Ivory Coast. The cargo, made up of among other highly dangerous substances lye and oil production waste, was supposed to be exported from the Netherlands to the Ivory Coast, but as the port authorities in Abidjan deemed the cargo too dangerous to be allowed ashore, it was simply washed out into sea. Some 30,000 people fell ill and 17 died in the aftermath.

A court in the Netherlands has now fined Trafigura € 1 million (roughly US$ 1,3 million) for illegal exporting and dumping of toxic trash. The fine was about half of what prosecutors had called for, but they have stated that they see the ruling as a victory. In earlier settlements, Trafigura has paid £100 million (roughly US$ 154 million) to the Ivorian government and £30 million (roughly US$46 million).

Recycling station art

Sunday, April 18, 2010

In Halmstad, Sweden’s 19th city (56 000 pax), trashy art has been taken to where trash harbours. Local artist Kamil Lucaszewicz has decorated a city recycling station, much to the joy of Lucaszewicz’s fellow citizens. Local TV station TV4 Halland has the story (there’ll be an ad clip first)!

The upcycling college

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Don’t know what to do with your career come August? Why not sign up to a 1-year program in upcycling design? Can’t believe I haven’t seen this before:

In the fall of 2008, Eskilstuna College started a course on sustainable development and recycling technologies. The course runs over two semesters and is intended for students who wants to work both theoretically and practically with the creation of new products from recycled materials.

You will have to work with practically everything from furniture restoration to the jewelry manufacture and use your imagination and creativity and you will certainly gain new insights into what sustainability really means.

This is really as cool as one thinks. [Apply here.] The work of this years trashtastic students can be followed at their blog, and their flickr. Personally, I’ve got my eyes on this vinyl record fruit bowl:

Vinyl record fruit bowl

The student will stage an end-of-the-year exhibition, open 27 May-20 August, at the college in Eskilstuna, so if you pass through Sweden, be sure to make a detour. In Stockholm, creations can be purchased at swop:art.

London poo

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Swedish Television (those lovely public service guys) have correspondents here and there, reporting back to the motherland on the big events that shape our world. Tonight, they will report on our favourite human trash, that no one escapes: poo.

In a glimpse of tonight’s programming, we learn that in November 2009 (due to heavy rains) a fantastic 12,75 million cubic metres, or the equivalent of “3 401 Olympic swimming pools”, of sewage water ran straight in to the famous river Themes. The first to know when this occurs are the rowing teams using the Themes as practise ground, as they sometimes come down with heavy vomiting after a run on the river. Also, it smells.

In a larger perspective, the overflow of human trash is a problem in many major cities, including Paris and New York. I’ll be watching tonight.

E-waste boom around the corner

Monday, February 22, 2010

In 2006, 896 million new cell phones were put on the global market. With such an incredibly high input, a good guess is that there is a lot of people using a second-hand cell phone out there, but also that a lot of old cell phones are gathering dust in drawers. What we know is that far too many end up as non recycled trash, or are “recycled” by people working for a tiny income under terrible conditions.

In a new report released today, the United Nations Environment Programme draw attention to electronic and electric waste, pointing out that official data is scarce and that metals in themselves are trashy not only post cell phone life, but that mining is indeed a wasteful business. Electronic and electric waste contains a lot of metal, such as aluminum, copper, palladium and gold.

The report is an intriguing technical guide on how to properly recycle electronic and electric waste, but it also provides estimates on how volumes of electronic and electric waste will increase in so-called developing countries over the coming years. In Uganda, for example, quantities will increase by a factor between 6 and 8 by 2020. Challenges are, as per usual, complex and correspondingly huge. There is need for legislation and policing of such legislation, but legal recycling can’t happen without proper smelting facilities and dismembering factories.

In a comment to the Guardian, Ruediger Kuehr, United Nations University, points out that with increasing demand follows a surge in illegal import of what the global North considers trash.

It’s definitely in the countries which have substantial increase in consumption – countries like China and India, which are still substantial targets for illegal imports of e-waste. The same applies for countries like Nigeria.

With the risk of being repetitive, the background problem is our collective obsession with consuming new products and a world more and more characterized by electronic consumer products, while insufficient attention is given to recycling and upcycling.

Stockholm in tra$h uproar

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

[This will be a total rewrite, but as I don’t live in the motherland at the moment, I have to rely on larger news outlets. Apologies.]

According to newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, municipal authorities have been getting 17 times as many complaint calls from citizens regarding uncollected garbage bags, following the decision by Stockholm refuse collectors we reported on earlier this month.

In short, a conflict between contractors and their employees has led to a situation in which the refuse collectors refuse to carry more than what is legal, in manners that are legal, as stipulated in the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Trash bags heavier than 33 pounds remain uncollected, as do any bags positioned in a facility behind piles of snow.

City officials are of course blaming the contractors, who seems to have failed to comment properly so far..

Trash all over Stockholm

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Remember the trash collector wildcat strike that broke out in Stockholm exactly one year ago? Yesterday, the labour court came to a decision on issues in the aftermath. In short, the court ruled in favour of the tra$h company who fired wildcat striking trash collectors who wouldn’t accept a monthly salary, instead of the piece wages traditionally paid in the industry.

The union organizing trash collectors have (in outrage) responded to this by announcing that they henceforth will abide strictly to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which will be problematic to say the least. Union spokesperson Peder Murell issued the following statement to the Swedish Radio:

We will not haul trash bags heavier than 15 kilograms [33 pounds], we will not handle containers without wheels, we will not collect if snow hasn’t been shoveled away. I expect a lot of stuff will stay where it is.

As context, Stockholm has had its coldest January since 1987 and there is more snow than anyone can remember. To be continued.

Dustbins calling the mother white elephant

Monday, February 1, 2010

Swedish Radio reported earlier this week that Västra Götaland County are about to test the next generation of dustbins. The dustbins, using ultrasound, will be calling in to some sort of central command mother computer when they are ready to be emptied. This mother computer will transfer the information to trash collectors before they go out to do their business, but not before calculating the most efficient way to wheel the white elephant* on that particular day, taking into account weather effects on roads.

Freight costs are expected to drop by 25%, as only necessary stops will be made. More importantly, this is just too cool!

*refuse [collection] lorry; us eng. garbage [removal] truck, sanitation truck

George Orwell in void of thaw

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

One of my favourite blogs is The Orwell Diaries; a complete reprint of the diaries of legendary writer George Orwell. A new post is added as long as there was an entry in the diary 60 years ago. Hence, today we learn what Orwell wrote on the 19th of January 1940. It was apparently cold in the UK at the time (as it is now). Orwell had a bit of a conundrum around what to do with his trash:

No thaw. A little more snow last night. Cannot unfreeze kitchen tap but unfroze the waste pipe by pouring boiling water down the straight part & hanging hot water bottle over the bend. Tried to dig a hole to bury some refuse but found it impossible even with the pick. Even at 6” depth the ground is like a stone.

9 eggs.

Trash harbouring in Honolulu

Friday, January 15, 2010

International trash transit seems to have run into some government bureaucracy this week, according to a piece in The Daily News. Apparently, trash shipments from Hawaii to Washington, over the Columbia River, have been suspended due to the need for an environmental assessment plan, including a 30-day public comment. Transports have up until now gone over road and rail, and with the change in transportation mode, regulations kick in. I.e., if you are a reader of and live in the area, you should be interested and here’s a golden opportunity.

While the imports of Hawaiian Waste Systems (based in Seattle) are on hold, trash that hoped to float along the North Pacific Ocean are stacking up in Honolulu docks. Several hundreds of tonnes of trash bales are posing a health threat, says Hawaiian officials. On the other hand, if one trusts a news piece from The Seattle Times written in June 2008, explaining the intended process, it seems as if the risk is minimal.  In any case, the bales are likely to sit around for another two months or so, while the wheel of bureaucracy keep on turning.

“Where can I recycle my mortar?”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Well, recycling is a good thing, but perhaps the person who decided the time was ripe to leave their 1951 155 millimeter artillery shell at a recycling station in Seattle should have thought another round. Luckily, no one was hurt, and the Army apparently came to save the day.

The trash of war is, as war itself, destructive. The examples are endless, again as war seems to be. Some war trash has direct impact on human security, such as the around 18 million land mines layed down by the British at the battle for El Alamein in 1942, still killing and injuring the Bedouin population living there. But war does not only create weapons trash, it also turns infrastructure and nature into trash, with manifold long-term effects. In short, as if it needed to be stated, war is bad when it happens, and long after.

Beijing to have trash crisis in next decade

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

China Daily and China Radio International both report today that Beijing will soon be void of space for trash from the 20 million people living in the Capital of the world’s most populous country.  With an annual trash growth rate of 8%, landfills (i.e. Beijing’s main method of taking care of trash) are about to overflow, and disposal plants are already overworked.

As Beijing doesn’t have much space for new landfill, nor much time to establish new landfills, city officials have stated that they are considering incineration, a method highly unpopular among the public, who fear more pollution in an already terribly polluted city. (Illustrative pic can be found here, the real nerds should check out this twitter feed.)

The local government is trying to argue that incineration isn’t necessary a big polluter. Clearly, there are advantages of emissions from incineration facilities over toxic gas generated by landfills, but then again, science is always an argument. (A good account of the debate can be found in this wiki post.) What is of course more disheartening is that the Beijing government, similar to governments everywhere, seem to care less about figuring out how people in Beijing could generate less trash to begin with. 8% growth per year is no joke.

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