PLANET LANDFILL

Mehru Jaffer

I ’m happy to see the garbage outside my doorstep swept away in recent days. The only worry is that the filth may have been removed from this doorstep only to be deposited at another. This out of sight, out of mind policy is no long-term solution to a clean country.

What has helped European countries like Denmark and Sweden to keep cities clean is the process of incineration of municipal waste and the identification of hundreds of regulated landfill areas. Garbage trucks are often fitted with a built-in compressor before depositing the waste in an incinerator. These countries are also leaders in using energy generated from the incineration of garbage.

In Denmark nearly 14 per cent of the total domestic heat consumption is produced by waste incineration.

A number of other European countries rely heavily on incineration for handling municipal waste, in particular Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany and France.

In Vienna, the Austrian capital’s waste incineration plants are made to occupy a pride of place in the daily lives of citizens and are as much of a tourist attraction as ancient palaces and modern museums. A tour of the waste management plant at Spittelau gives an insight into the city’s waste, recycling and disposal system and its environment-friendly capacity to generate thermal heat and hot water for citizens.

In this part of the city the issues of waste, energy and art are woven together in a most creative way by the local administration. The late Friendensreich Hundertwasser, the city’s most prominent painter, was given a free hand in the 1990s to camouflage the monstrously large buildings to create a colourful facade, while the surroundings of the home of the city’s filth are dotted with coffee houses, bakeries and open spaces for theatre performances and concerts.

Here, the public joyously participates in managing its waste, unaware of the massive process of cleaning going on in the belly of the plant in accordance with strict statutory provisions and without being inconvenienced by noise pollution or unpleasant odour.

The idea is to celebrate the way the local government manages garbage. It is to prove how social, political and cultural issues are inseparable from each other and to get people to engage creatively with the filth created by them all, rather than have citizens turn their noses up at civic problems as if public cleanliness is everybody else’s responsibility except one’s own.

Austria is the first country in the world to implement the strictest legal emissions standards and implement strict limits against noise pollution. Waste is a complex issue and it took decades for the industrialised world to become aware of integrated waste management.

It became known only about 30 years ago in Austria, Germany and Switzerland when waste-to-energy projects were considered, keeping in mind ecological conditions for protection of the environment, social and legal acceptance, as well as economic viability.

Since the economy of industrialised countries is imitated here, good practices like integrated waste management, too, need a study perhaps in order to prevent terrible mistakes made by the industrialised world. It is precisely the prosperity of industrialised countries and global production of goods that is recognised as a problem in affluent countries
like Austria.

Ever since realisation dawned three decades ago, the country slapped a legal ban on disposal of hazardous wastes in landfills and the imposition of a fee on each ton of waste dumped. The country has developed a state-of-the-art waste incineration system of which both the people and politicians are proud.

According to chemical engineer and environmentalist Franz Neubacher, a major problem of the industrialised world is the existence of products for contemporary
consumer society. Today, the European Union considers waste prevention its first priority in waste management. There is an increase in material wealth for the population of industrialised countries, something that Indians covet, not realising that all raw materials and fuels extracted from the environment to create goods turn into emissions like waste water, greenhouse gases, heat loss and noise at some point.

One glaring example of the hoarding hazard of modern civilisation is in the growth of cars since 1950.

Old cars are the most difficult goods as far as disposal and recycling are concerned. They pollute the environment while on the road and also when too old to travel. Do remember that, will you? In particular, when you cruise behind the wheels of the third car in the family.  

 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: OCTOBER 2014