Great news, Italy and England are running out of landfill space

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Yay! The New York Times had an article yesterday about how Italy's Naples has finally run out of landfill space and had to agree on a quick deal to send their trash to Germany to be taken care of, and that England will run out of landfill space in nine years as well. See:

“We have described the U.K. as the dustbin of Europe because we put more to landfill than any other country in the E.U., and our landfill space is running out very quickly,” said Nick Mann of the British Local Government Association. Waste in Britain is increasing 3 percent a year, and its dumps will be filled to capacity in nine years.

Mr. Mann said: “A large percentage of our calls are about trash. There’s a front-page story on bins almost every day. Trash is a really hot issue.”

and here's Italy's situation:

For months, mountains of rotting trash have grown in the streets of southern Italy because the region has run out of places to put it. So for the time being — 11 weeks, actually — a 56-car train will arrive in Hamburg every day after a 44-hour journey, each bearing 700 tons of Neapolitan refuse.

“We are doing this because we were asked to provide emergency aid, but we will do it only for a few months, not years,” said Martin Mineur, the director of two of Hamburg’s incinerators, as a steady stream of trucks carrying garbage from the train station roared by. “This is not a long-term solution. Italy will have to solve Italy’s problem.”

This is good news because it's equivalent to news about a mid-sized asteroid hitting the Earth in a few years. Over at the forums on there are always threads that emerge when new asteroids are discovered that might hit the Earth and for a while there's speculation about whether it will, but then after a few days new calculations show that it won't hit the Earth and there's a bit of disappointment when that happens.

The reason why of course is that a medium-sized asteroid alone doesn't create a catastrophic amount of damage, but is enough of a concern that if one were to be confirmed to be on a collision course with Earth that we would all of a sudden have to do something about it, and that would mean tons of investment into space over a very short period of time. These asteroids are not like the one on Armageddon that make their way from the outer reaches of the Solar System directly towards Earth and everybody dies; rather they're usually already pretty close, passing by the Earth's orbit a few times before finally being sucked in on the next few passes and that's when it finally hits us. So an asteroid orbit-altering mission would probably involve a rendezvous when it passes by the Earth a few decades in advance, and could use a whole variety of methods such as a mass driver (kind of like a gun that shoots off pieces of the asteroid repeatedly to alter its orbit), even painting one side of the asteroid to alter its orbit (similar to a solar sail), or just a regular missile, or perhaps a combination of a few of these methods. In any case, interest in space would be at an all-time high.

It's the same thing with trash in Europe: It's a large problem, but not life-threatening, and it's happening in countries that have the resources and technical knowhow to do something about it. When it happens in a country like Myanmar for example it's a tragedy because not only is the government corrupt and cruel, but the people have no way to adapt. With the EU it's merely a matter of finding the will to make a few changes, and having to ship your trash to Germany to have it taken care of is certainly embarassing enough that there will be enough willpower to do something about it. Here's what the article says about the future:

By 2020, the European Union will require member nations to reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills to 35 percent of what it was in 1995. It has already begun severely restricting and reducing the use of landfills, a k a garbage dumps, because of the host of health and environmental problems they produce.

But none of this will be easy. Italy, Spain, Greece and Britain each still send more than 60 percent of their garbage to landfills. A recent study found that they, as well as Ireland and France, are unlikely to meet those long-term landfill targets.

(In 2006, the United States sent 55 percent of its waste to landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.)

“Look, no one wants waste — you want to ignore it, or throw it away, or have huge piles of it out of sight in landfill as they do in Britain,” said Barbara Helferrich, a spokeswoman for the European Commission Environment Directorate. “It’s a difficult problem, but some countries are definitely much better than others in waste management.”

It is perhaps not surprising that Hamburg should take the lead. Its environmental waste policy is controlled by the German Green Party, who govern the city in a coalition with the conservative Christian Democratic Union. On the street, pedestrians are required to divide trash into four types of bins, depending on its recycling potential.

Germany and a few northern European countries have spent most of the last decade developing strategies to reduce and dispose of the waste generated by modern life: closing polluting landfills and investing heavily in recycling and trash reduction programs.

For the trash that remains, they have developed state-of-the-art incinerators that minimize noxious emissions with a series of filters and have put the energy generated to good use, by heating homes and water, for example.


In fact, after years of warnings, the European Commission filed suit against Italy in early May, charging that it had failed to meet its obligation to collect and dispose of its garbage. Officials in Hamburg express a degree of sympathy, since until 2000 Hamburg sent a vast majority of its trash to landfills, too — most of it to the former East Germany. It was cheap and easy to truck away prosperous Hamburg’s trash to poorer towns looking for hard currency.

But a decade ago, the state environment minister decided to end the practice. “After a while, they didn’t want to take it, and we didn’t want to export it,” said Reinhard Fiedler, who runs Hamburg’s waste management program. “We had ambitious environmental politicians and also there was a lack of space for landfill. There’s been a complete turnaround.”

This city of about 1.8 million people produced 1.6 million tons of garbage a year in 1999, and only 50,000 tons went to recycling. Today, despite growing in size, it generates only 1.4 million tons; 600,000 tons of it is incinerated and 800,000 tons of it is recycled, said Volker Dumann, Hamburg’s environment minister.

“The trend is to recycle more and incinerate less and to generate less waste altogether,” he said. Indeed, Hamburg’s incinerators have excess capacity to accommodate Italian trash because so much trash from the city is now recycled.

See, that's why this is good news. Just like the recent stories about people adapting to high gas prices by buying smaller cars and taking the bike to work.

Urs Kluyver for The International Herald Tribune

A pile of ash, which is used in road construction, at one of three incinerators in Hamburg. The city produces less garbage today than it did almost a decade ago and recycles much more.


  © Blogger templates Newspaper by 2008

Back to TOP