In all the trips I’ve made to Ireland, probably the worst thing I ever ate was a scampi-flavored Tayto crisp. I remember exactly where I was when I tried it (Kinsale – it was the only snack item available in the pub we stopped in after a grueling climb up to that town’s ancient fort). My husband and I each ate half a chip, gagged, then crushed and tossed the bag in the trash.
This was a while back, but if I had tossed that crisp bag into the trash more recently, it might well have ended up in a trash-burning power plant in Germany.
While garbage is probably not in the Irish export league as Kerry Gold butter and Donegal tweed caps, it is an important export. Less goes into landfill – which are being phased out across the EU - plus they’re doing Germany a favor. Win-Win. (Win-Vin?)
The Germans are apparently such avid recyclers that they don’t product enough trash to fuel their trash-burning waste-to-energy plants.
Over the past decade, heaps of garbage-burning power plants and composting facilities were built throughout Germany as the country shut off all its landfills to new household trash. But instead of growing, as many thought it would, household-waste production flattened, in part because sparing Germans edged their already-high recycling rate even higher.
Taken with the effects of a declining population and the global recession, plants in Germany were left short millions of tons of garbage a year, a quandary for companies that depend on a steady stream of rubbish to keep the lights on. (Source: WSJ)
Fortunately for Germany, there’s oodles of Eurotrash out there. And it’s not just coming from Ireland. Garbage is on the move from England, from Italy, from Switzerland. (That last one surprised me. Who’da thunk that that the Swiss produce trash? I thought they just did watches, chocolates, and secret bank accounts.)
Once the garbage finds its way to the vaterland, it’s converted to electricity that heats and lights German homes. Germany’s not alone here: the Netherlands and Sweden are both big in the waste-not-want-not world of rubbish importing.
Not that being a trash-importing country is an unalloyed joy.
Before the plants get to do their let-their-be-light magic with the trash heaps, the garbage-in sometimes mounts up and – as anyone who’s walked by a garbage truck in July well knows – starts to stink.
A minor price to pay for alchemizing trash into energy.
As a source of power, trash is somewhat controversial, with some maintaining that it takes more energy to produce energy than makes sense.
I like the idea that garbage can turn into something other than landfill. Even a relatively low producer of non-recycled trash like me regrets all those shiny black plastic garbage bags full of banana peels and orange rind, tea bags and snotty Kleenex, pizza napkins and the peanut butter jars that it doesn’t seem to make sense to wash out for recycling, popsicle sticks and chicken fat…
In my new kitchen I’ll have a garbage disposal – my old one has been broken for years – so I’ll be producing even less garbage than I used to. Would that even my meager residual could serve a higher purpose…