Archive for the 'Netherlands' Category

06
Jun
09

Secure Trash

I sometimes wish I could have a user manual for urban interfaces in the Netherlands. You run into all sorts of machines all over the place, many of which appear to be designed by aliens with a poor understanding of human cognition and a very poor command of the Dutch language. One example is this garbage container, which I found in the streets of Apeldoorn.

The interface is on the left. The gates of hell are on the right. To judge by the picture on the front of the interface—which shows a rat sniffing around “loose” trash—there is some temptation to just skip the entire proceeding and leave one’s offerings at the gate instead.

How to operate the underground dumpster

How to operate the underground dumpster

Also, of course, it may fail to operate altogether, in which case you have to call someone. The instructions seem to suggest that you will then receive temporary access privileges for a different secure trash can a few streets away.

Or it could be full. For that unfortunate circumstance, I don’t see an instruction.

19
May
09

picking it up

On Saturday morning I sat at the bus stop peacefully practicing individual sustainability when my meditations were  interrupted by a man picking up what in Dutch is called vagrant trash from all over the sidewalk and stuffing it into the bin no more than 2 feet away from me. He set a full soft drink cup on top of the bin at one point and carefully stuffed some sandwich wrappers in.

Vagrant Trash (not picked up by me)

Vagrant Trash (not picked up by me)

I don’t really mind this kind of behavior, but, for those of you who wonder, I definitely don’t do it myself. I just watch the picker-uppers and notice that they’re almost always “older” (i.e., older than me) and that they have a slightly contrarian air. “I don’t understand these people just throwing their trash on the ground,” they will tell you, or otherwise it’s evident from the formation of their brows that they’re thinking just that.

I on the other hand am always thinking that it’s a miracle that so minute a fraction of the vast mountains of trash we create in the West end up outside of designated receptacles. And that there are people properly employed and fitted out to enroll the vagrant trash into the official garbage program. So why me? And that if I have no clean facilities to wash my hands, I really, really wouldn’t want to touch the stuff myself. In fact, by my reckoning, picking up all the trash with your bare hands and then handing your Euros to the bus driver without intervening ablutions is not exactly the pinnacle of human kindness.

Anyhow, soft drink cup safely on top of the bin. And  then splat. Bad enough to get on the bus with those filthy hands, but when the trash becomes projectile I’m really not enjoying myself. I like trash in the abstract and from a safe distance much more than I like it in person.

So this morning the New York Times posted a story that takes all of that and turns it completely upside down. A young man in Lahore, Pakistan, has started a group to personally pick up vagrant trash once a week as a statement of political will and empowerment. Good for him. I hope it’s the start of a movement. And I hope he gets to wash his hands before he gets on the bus.

14
May
09

Stinky Vinky

stinky's heap

stinky's heap

A little while ago I wrote about where the garbage I’m currently producing doesn’t go: the garbage dump near Barneveld, in the Netherlands. So I thought I’d go myself.

I can report it’s a beaut and large. And stinky. An oily substance seeps out of the frontal garbage declivity. Things peek up above the dirt which should be under it.

Other things lie about in the nonchalant abandon of retirement. What could they be doing, those giant rolls of something plastic. Still considering a second career? A short distance away lolls a stack of sewer pipe, also used, piled nearly up to the tops of the trees. If you can bring yourself to walk up close, you can look into the eyes of the curious horses in the meadow on the other side, like peering through a toilet roll at a primitive picture of rural delights.

astro turf? roofing material?

astro turf? roofing material?

The whole disreputable pile is exploited, as they say in the Netherlands, by a certain Vink, who’s just lost his permit for irregularities in disposal practices. Apparently I’m not the only one who took exception. But irregularities also occurred in the investigation, and Stinky may appeal the ruling. It doesn’t seem as if he’s in a hurry to clean up his act.

All of it lies alongside a picturesque country lane with old trees only a little the worse for wear that winds its way through fields just plowed and sowed. If you turn your gaze just so,  you can enjoy the view, the peaceful evening air, the birdsong, and the rustic chorus of crickets. Just bring some nose clips.

13
May
09

Can Therapy

Feel good trash can

Feel good trash can

Found in Amsterdam, on Museumplein.

Try trash can therapy:
Throw your trash
in the can.
You feel better

28
Apr
09

the piles behind me

I’ve got myself into a dilemma much like Tristram Shandy’s, whose life went by much faster than he was able to record it. Only my problem is that every time I get myself up to look for my ancient garbage, I create more of it in additional places. All of which will require more research, more getting myself up to look, more creating of garbage in hitherto unsuspected places, more research, more getting up, etc., etc. Infinite regress has already reared its monstrous head even though to date I have gone to look only for the largest quantities of my own historical trash. If I tried to locate the trash I’ve left all over the world while traveling, I would be dead before I properly documented my first 10 years.

Barneveld Landfill

Barneveld Landfill

My current sojourn in the Netherlands is associated with a heap of trash that,  as of this writing, has no known destination. All I know is where it does not go—the dump operated by the enterprise that collects the garbage at my temporary address. I’m not sure the locals agree about many things, but they do agree that the country is too small to fill it up with rubbish.

I had expected to be able to participate in food and green waste composting, but no such luck. I live in a place with a special dispensation and a solid refusal to deal with separate collections. All the trash I currently create, including those perfectly innocent scraps and peels, is going into purgatory somewhere unidentified, to burn for my sins.

I don’t even want to begin to think about what might happen to discards produced when I visit my folks.

verboden1

Dumping Garbage Prohibited - Gevudo, Dordrecht

On the other hand, the considerable quantity of tissues I unwillingly used up in consequence of a cold while traveling to Heerjansdam to look for my childhood trash (see Buitenland’s Garbage, Zwijndrecht, Preserve, Times Two, Transmigration of Matter, and Pretty Picture) does have a known destination: the Dordrecht incinerator, where the visitor is summarily forbidden to dump his “dirt,” the standard term for garbage in local parlance.  The country’s only hospital waste incinerator is located here as well.

Next to the incinerator is a working landfill, where I presume the fly ash goes. It rises like Table Mountain above the surrounding flat lands, ominous and foreboding.

A little further east, there is bound to be more garbage because I found a ski slope, a cycle track, and a golf course—sure signs of waste underfoot. The ski slope is in disrepair, as Dutch people have generally evinced a preference for the Alps over tricked-out, spiffed-up garbage dumps. The ski lift is nothing but a downed clothesline in the grass, and the squares of corrugated plastic snow are sliding off the hillside as if to make up for the lack of human visitors.

In back of the golf course is a huge park, only half tended and almost completely deserted, of breath-taking beauty. Half wetland, half terra firma, hushed in the near fog, slowly awakening from long winter sleep. Despite the immediate proximity of ovens, upland waste, electricity pylons, and railway bridge, the area seems entirely removed from time except the cycles of the seasons.  This is hands down the prettiest garbage dump I have ever visited. I don’t recommend it as a tourist attraction only because too many visitors would spoil the prospect.

Merwelanden, northern end of the Biesbosch

Merwelanden, northern end of the Biesbosch

Yet again further east lies a gigantic garbage dike, following the banks of the river Beneden Merwede for what I guess is a length of approximately 2 kilometers. It runs right into the upper end of one of the national parks, the Biesbosch. Also gorgeous. Also completely unreal.

24
Apr
09

Fighting over Waste

Usually, when people fight about waste it’s a game of hot potato, where everybody tries their damndest not to be the one stuck with it when the music stops. Or perhaps it’s more like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, in which one player holds both tail and pin and all the others do what they can to avoid being the donkey’s rear end. In the U.S., where vast amounts of trash cross state lines, it’s not uncommon to see people work themselves up into scandalized outrage over the notion that their state would have to bury someone else’s garbage. The feeling is no less genuinely felt in states which are net exporters in this passing game.

The Dutch waste pile

The Dutch waste pile

But in these dark days of economic contraction, all the rules are a little different. There’s not enough trash to go around. In the Netherlands, consumers are still contributing generously to the health of the garbage industry. Commercial waste, however, is way down. This on top of successful government efforts to prevent waste, which have eaten into the waste stream in recent years.  The result is a significant overcapacity in disposal, specifically incineration. There’s a whole new game afoot, which, if anything, resembles a mad scramble over the insufficient spoils, so to speak.

The scramblers include not just the incineration giants, but the often smaller recycling companies. They are crying foul, complaining that waste that could be recycled is feeding the incinerators’ hungry maws instead. Interestingly, this is the story that U.S. environmentalists have always told about incineration: that it will tend to undermine recycling, despite the fact that it is environmentally much more responsible than incineration, though often less economically competitive. In other words, it’s real, not just a bugaboo story.

Now there are furious debates about how to adjust incentives so that salvageable materials will end up back in service and incinerator capacity will end up adjusted appropriately to the non-salvageable waste stream. It’s interesting to note that nobody suggests it would be smart to bury the trash instead.

21
Apr
09

studying stink

I recently ran into some of the scientific literature about stink studies. These are conducted in the Netherlands near garbage dumps, incinerators, and other business enterprises likely to cause environmental nuisances, especially of the olfactory kind.

I don’t know if this is the case in the U.S., but stench is considered pollution in Europe. There’s a hedonic value scale that says that “very slightly unpleasant” (H=-1) is acceptable, but “slightly unpleasant” hedonic values (H=-2)  in residential areas amount to actionable environmental degradation. That is to say, if people live in a “slightly unpleasant” stink plume, something must be done to contain the nuisance.

Obviously, no enterprise is going to spend good money remediating its general stinkiness unless there are reliable, quantitative measurements that show incontrovertibly that H=-2 has been achieved. Measurements are made in stink units and in sniff units. If I understand the literature, the organization undertaking the stink study sends something much like a focus group into the field, at the same time that project leads analyze and measure ambient air and track activities at the (potentially) offending location. The members of the focus group, known as the sniff team, sniff the air. I’m not sure if they use expert sniffers or if they are recruited on Craigslist as representatives of the general population, as is standard operating procedure for focus groups these days.

Sniffing

Sniffing

Whatever their credentials, I can’t resist picturing them, standing in the weeds like partridge hounds, chin raised, nostrils flared, brow furrowed. They inhale slowly and deeply, experiencing the air, savoring its aroma as if it were wine being judged in a contest, and then spitting it out. Bluuch. Very slightly unpleasant, full-bodied and complex, methane-forward, with suggestions of trichloroethylene, halogenated hydrocarbons, considerable complexity in the biphenyls, and a sexy note of barnyard. Units are noted on the PDA.

I imagine the sniffers are posted all around the area, and they probably raise their olfactory equipment into the air at prescribed intervals for repeated readings. Their various savorings of the air are eventually compiled. Obscure calculations are performed to transmogrify qualitative experiences into quantitative results and to correlate awarded sniff and stink units with business activities and weather conditions. The idea is to produce not just readings of the moment, but to pinpoint the source of the bluuch and to extrapolate how often bluuch might obtain during the year.If the units exceed legal limits, remedial actions must be undertaken, and then the focus group/sniff team goes to work again, to make sure hedonic values are up into approved regions. It may also occur that plans to build new housing in the plume will be scotched based on findings.

Like many things in life, the law is a two-edged sword. I quickly ran into some studies commissioned by the stinkers to prove that they produced too much stink to allow housing to be built in their vicinity. Clearly, they didn’t feel like cleaning up.

A person who was at one time employed by the province of Zuid-Holland appears to have been in the course of compiling a stink atlas of the Netherlands, gathering together an array of stink findings for various locations and branches of industry. For the most part, incinerators are found to remain within permissible hedonic limits. Landfills are a different matter. The active face is, predictably, the source of most of the offending odors, but fugitive methane from older sections is also fingered as problematic. It doesn’t just cause global warming, then; it induces anhedonic states in the bystanders.

Now I don’t believe that the  Zuid-Holland stink expert was at all concerned with agricultural stink, which I can testify, as a focus group of one, is considerably more than slightly unpleasant in the general environs where I currently reside. (Agricultural stink might be too gargantuan a project to map, but I suspect that the real reason is that farmers are too well organized to permit any government to put stink limits on their activities.) A short bikeride from my cottage to the nearby village for groceries is an obstacle course through multiple chicken dung, sheep doo, and hog manure plumes. It smells rural, Dutch people say.

Local farmers are apparently resolarizing agriculture, refusing petroleum-derived fertilizers in favor of the traditional thing. Good for them, of course. But the hedonic values are way south of the worst landfill I’ve ever smelled.




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