Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mulling over what to do with müll. (Vaste not, vant not.)

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.

Oh, well.

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…


Frederick Wright said...

Maureen - this is slightly off topic for this blog post but I couldn't find your original article about the Aran Islands and how they've changed since your first visit. My spouse and I just got back on Sunday from an extended CAR FREE three week exploration of Ireland, including a day long hike on Inis Oirr, the smallest and least developed of the three. It was an absolute joy. A single pub, no Garda to fuss about opening/closing times. Barely a word of English being spoken. High up in the hills by O'Brien's Castle we found a tidy subsistence farming family who had cannily set up picnic tables in their yard, and the mother was preparing lunches for hikers who reached the summit. An epic feast of dishes usually presumed lost in the mists of time, plus unlimited beer and cider, for about 5 euros. Highly highly recommended.

Maureen Rogers said...

Frederick - That sounds like such a wonderful trip. I've only been to Inis Mor, but the little island sounds intriguing.

Frederick Wright said...

Maureen - my biggest "fear" of visiting Ireland on this trip was the fact that we are non-drivers and I remember Ireland (25 years ago) being really hard without a car. But the new Ireland seems to have a really good public transit network. Not easy to understand - with many routes overlapping across a variety of services: rail, light rail, tram, bus, electric bus, donkey cart, palanquin, etc. We were able to get everywhere we wanted to go without even thinking of a car. The food scene is amazing too - and not just for rich yuppies, but EVERYONE at every socio-economic class is benefiting.

Maureen Rogers said...

Frederick - I've driven in Ireland a couple of times, but - what with the "wrong side" driving - it was quite nervous-making. Most of the time, my husband and I took trains or hired a driver. (In Ireland, they're very used to long-haul cab rides that are done for a fixed fee.) The trains are quite comfortable, but there are a lot of times where you can't get from Point A to Point B without crossing halfway across the country, well out of your way, to turn around.

Agreed on the food. When I first went to Ireland (1973) the food was abysmal, but when I started going back regularly (1985) things were really starting to pick up. People are always shocked when I tell them that the food is so good there. They're no doubt thinking about their grandmother's kitchen! Best meal ever in Ireland: in a tiny restaurant in Cong (Co. Mayo) that was part of a B&B. The owner's husband came in when we were making reservations. He had a couple of just-caught salmon over his back. We knew what we were having for dinner...