Tag Archives: Waste

Heart of Darkness

“The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky–seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.” -Conrad

A 20sec exposure of the full moon

A 20sec exposure of the full moon

“We are not conscious of daylight as that which displaces darkness. Daylight, even when the sun is clear of clouds, seems to us simply the natural condition of the earth and air…We take daylight for granted. But moonlight is another matter. It is inconstant. The full moon wanes and returns again. Clouds may obscure it to an extent to which they cannot obscure daylight…We need daylight and to that extent it is utilitarian, but moonlight we do not need. When it comes, it serves no necessity. It transforms…” – Watership Down

We’ve passed the darkest point and ever so slowly the sun is returning. Astronomical Twilight! Or so they say…with the 35kt winds and cloudy skies we’ve had this past week it’s as dark as ever.

We haven’t seen the sun for over three months now; the darkness only broken by the moon which rises every two weeks illuminating the polar plateau in a wash of silvery light. When full it’s bright enough to cast stark shadows, but when it sets again we are plunged into the deepest of dark. With the stars hidden by clouds it’s utter pitch black – without a headlamp you can’t see a thing. For this reason DZ is illuminated by 6 bright red lights, as are some of the other out buildings used for navigation in the dark. White lights are forbidden (except in an emergency) as they interfere with some of the research projects monitoring the sky. Equipment, headlamps, any lights outside are covered with red cellophane or paint, and lights in general are kept to a minimum.

The lack of sunlight can be depressing and the dark when the moon sets can be challenging to be sure, but when the moon sets and the clouds clear the sky is phenomenal. The stars are bright, the Milky Way a clear slash of light through the velvety sky (see the two pictures below – both 30 sec exposures). The redness of Rigel is visible. It’s awesome in the truest sense of the word. Galaxies, stars, the dark “coal sack”, planets, satellites flying at just the right angle reflect the sun in a bright burst – iridium flares. Not to mention auroras.

The front of the station - Home Sweet Home - the windows blacked out and the plateau cloaked in darkness.

The front of the station – home sweet home – cloaked in darkness. A faint aurora lights up the sky on the right.

The backside of our home - DZ is the red lit area on the right.

The back of the station – DZ is the red lit area on the right. The Milky Way is the bright swath of stars up the middle of the photo.

Pictures from back home with sunlight and shadows, trees, grass, large bodies of liquid water, white fluffy clouds, people in shorts…animals…it’s starting to feel like a different world, a dream. I remember the warmth of sunlight on my skin. Here at the South Pole there is only one sunrise and one sunset in a year. Watching movies, it seems strange to see the sun rising and setting every day. An excessive number of sunrises and sunsets!
The days are blurring together, the weeks blending into one long stretch. I wake up and have to think about what day it is…what month…is it time to get up? Is it the middle of the night? Or did I sleep past my alarm? It’s always dark outside, always cold and even inside there’s not much more variation, it’s the same people doing the same thing day after day after day.
I haven’t completely lost sight of the beauty this place has to offer – auroras and star filled skies contrast with warm stormy days, projects and parties…I know however tired I am now, however much I yearn to leave this place, I will miss it the moment I leave. It brands the soul.

Like life aboard ships or submarines, routine anchors us in some form of sanity. Some people (researchers mostly) “free-cycle,” sleeping when they’re tired and working all night sometimes to end up on a 28hr day, others follow the satellite passes which advance every day by 4 minutes. Most of us are paid however, to work regular hours from 7am-5pm. It’s important for me to have a regular schedule. A typical day for me begins with my alarm at 6:00am. I eat breakfast in the galley, go to stretching from 7-7:30am, check my email, do my ‘rounds’ in which I check all the trash cans and recycling bins in the station, head outside to check my triwalls at DZ, setting up new ones and banding full ones as necessary then lunch from 12-1pm. After lunch it’s on to odd jobs like taking fluorescent bulbs out to my box on the berms, collecting used batteries, staging empty drums or moving full ones, organizing and scanning hazardous waste paperwork, editing the waste SOP. At 500pm we’re done for the day and most days I workout. Dinner from 6-630 then a movie, a card game, scrabble, maybe a lecture if one’s being presented. On Wednesdays I shower, and then to bed between 10-11pm. We get Sundays off.

Checking on my triwalls at DZ on a 'warm' (-50F) and windy day

Checking on my triwalls at DZ on a ‘warm’ (-50F) and windy day

The result of high wind...

The result of high wind…

Insomnia, or “big eye” is a common problem. For me personally it seems to take forever to fall asleep, but then I feel I could sleep for days. As the season progresses I start to feel tired all the time, more tired when I wake up than when I went to sleep. It doesn’t help that with no sunlight there’s no way of knowing what time of day it is. On Sundays I wake thinking it must be 7am or maybe 8 and I might get to sleep some more, but my watch shows 1130! Even with a regular schedule it can get slightly disorienting at times. Some people here use full-spectrum “happy” lights, others take vitamin D supplements. The greenhouse is a sanctuary of light, life, humidity, and oxygen. Just sitting in there for a few minutes is rejuvenating.

The station windows (42″x42″ or 42″x18″) are blocked with cardboard to prevent light pollution and to insulate against the cold. As progressive as this station might be they installed metal window frames which have proven to be huge heat sinks. These window covers go up right around sunset and are taken down around sunrise. While some are plain old triwall cardboard, others have become works of art:

Some of the window covers around the station

A collage of window covers around the station

A fisheye view of the galley with all the window covers up.

A fisheye view of the galley with all the window covers up.

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Waste

I just found this awesome post about Waste here at Pole from a friend who wintered last year. A look at waste from a “non-wastie”: http://southpolelibrarian.com/2012/07/29/south-pole-rubbish-department I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not the easiest system – certainly not as easy as just dumping everything in one bin and forgetting about it, but it’s not too hard and after a few weeks it becomes almost second nature. I gave a briefing to everyone here at the beginning of winter and am always available to help figure out where something goes. IMG_6515

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PART II A Day in the Life of a Wastie at Pole

Waste Management - Spill Response ANTARCTICA

Waste Management – Spill Response
ANTARCTICA

For the most part trash generated at the South Pole is collected in giant cardboard boxes called “triwalls” for their three layer corrugated walls. The triwalls I use come in two sizes: roughly 3.5ft x 3.5ft x 3.5ft (50 cubic feet) and 3.5ft x 3.5ft x 8ft (100 cubic feet) or “50 cubes” and “100 cubes.” These are Ginormous cardboard boxes – like refrigerator boxes for kids I can’t stop thinking about the potential for spaceships and castles. Setting them up alone can be a challenge, but with plenty of practice I’ve figured out a system.

Most of our waste is collected at DZ close to the station, but at -80F or -90F it can be a bit of an adventure just to take a bag or two out. Once a triwall gets full I close it up, band it with metal banding and set up a new one. Some categories such as paper towels, plastic, and food waste fill up faster than other, say electronic scrap which might not get full all winter. We fill maybe 3-5 triwalls a week then they’re taken off to the berms to be stored until summer.

At the colder temps we’ve been having lately (-75F to -90F ambient) I’ve encountered a few more challenges: The flaps crack with a loud pop when I bend them, coming away in my hands…my big marker freezes, ink steaming on the cold cardboard…the plastic liners we put in food waste and sanitary that are nearly stretchy when warm crack and shred…the banding tools slip…

But pictures are worth a thousand words so here you go. These pictures were taken by my friend Tom who’s working in Materials. These were taken almost a month ago when the sun was still above the horizon.

The DZ Waste Line

The DZ Waste Line

Stomping on trash to pack it down - no sense in flying out air

Stomping on trash to pack it down – no sense in flying out air

Folding up the flaps and closing the box with a cargo strap

Folding up the flaps and closing the box with a cargo strap

Banding!

Banding!

Tensioning the banding

Tensioning the banding

The rachet tool

The rachet tool

Labeling is important, even though it fades in the sunlight of summer

Labeling is important, even though it fades in the sunlight of summer

Step7

Threading a cargo strap through the pallet so it's ready for the new triwall

Threading a cargo strap through the pallet so it’s ready for the new triwall

These were taken a few weeks ago as you can see by the sun being up...my supplies (banding, new triwalls, pallets, straps etc) are at DZ too so it's not too far to drag them. Still, they're slipper and heavy.

These were taken a few weeks ago as you can see by the sun being up…my supplies (banding, new triwalls, pallets, straps etc) are at DZ too so it’s not too far to drag them. Still, they’re slipper and heavy.

The 100 cube triwalls are huge and cumbersome.

The 100 cube triwalls are huge and cumbersome.

A giant 100 cube

A giant 100 cube

Lining it up just right on the wood pallet is key - then it's just folding down the flaps.

Lining it up just right on the wood pallet is key – then it’s just folding down the flaps.

Tipping it upright

Tipping it upright

They break off in the super cold, but otherwise it's too tall.

They break off in the super cold, but otherwise it’s too tall.

Step15

A cargo strap holds the triwall to the wood pallet and keeps the flaps down.

A cargo strap holds the triwall to the wood pallet and keeps the flaps down.

Step17

A picture of myself after setting up and banding a few triwalls

A picture of myself after setting up and banding a few triwalls

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Waste Management – Spill Response – Antarctica

PART I: 99 Bins of Trash on the WallIMG_8741

Garbage, Rubbish, Trash, Junk, Refuse, Compost, Debris, Recycling, Haz…
It all goes through USAP’s Waste Management, which this winter at the South Pole is me, myself, and I.

Nearly 70% of the waste generated at McMurdo and South Pole is recycled or reused, that’s not bad considering in 2010 the recycling rate in the US on average was 34% (http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/index.htm).
All the waste generated on continent must be shipped back to the States to be processed so we take recycling and waste management seriously down here. At Pole it is collected in HUGE cardboard boxes called triwalls (more on these in the next post), stored on the berms through the winter, and flown out to McMurdo in summer where depending on the category it is it is baled, condensed, crushed, separated, shredded, sorted, or otherwise processed. Once consolidated the waste is packed into shipping containers (we call them milvans down here, short for military containers though they are also known as conex boxes) and loaded onto the vessel that arrives once a year from Port Huyneme, CA bringing South food and supplies to McMurdo and returning laden with waste.

My job here is to set up and maintain our waste collection points, securely store hazardous waste, and respond to hazardous spills. It’s a pretty physical job wrestling triwalls and drums, and involves at least a little outside work every day. I’m the only “Wastie” here, but I work with everyone on station so it’s not too lonely.

Waste at the South Pole is segregated into 13 main categories with even more additional categories for haz items. It can be a little overwhelming at first to toss a hand warmer wrapper out and be faced with 13 bins…is it Plastic? Non-Recyclables? Paper Towels? Most of the categories are fairly self-explanatory: Mixed Paper is mixed paper, Aluminum Beverage Cans is just that…but some are a little more obtuse – “Paper Towels” would be better called “Bale-able Non-R”, but the placards are made up already and the categories seem to change slightly every year so it’s not as easy as it might seem at first. A lot of it is driven by resale prices and value. We take special care to separate Ferrous and Non-Ferrous metals – even separating light and heavy metals.

The galley waste line

The galley waste line

The station 'waste/recycling room'

The station ‘waste/recycling room’

South Pole Waste Categories:

• Aluminum Cans
o Beverage cans only
o No pie plates, foil, etc.
o No contaminates… plastics, cig butts, chew juice, etc.
o Guinness beer cans are OK —aluminum valuable enough to deal w/ the widget
o Cans containing chew, cig butts or any food item go in Food Waste

• Cardboard
o Clean corrugated cardboard (please flatten)
o Tape on the cardboard is OK
o No paperboard (six pack holder, cereal box… goes in Mixed Paper)
o Oil or fuel contaminated goes to Haz—contact Waste dept for container location or delivery

The South Pole "Trash Matrix" a quick guide to common waste items and where they go.

The South Pole “Trash Matrix” a quick guide to common waste items and where they go.

• Glass
o Clean beverage and food glass
o No lids, corks, lemon/lime wedges or bottle caps
o No Guinness beer bottles—in Non-R because of the widget
o No drinking glasses, galley mugs, plates, mirrors, etc… put into Non-R or SKUA
o Broken glass should be protected in separate container (box, taped shut) and put into Non-R

• Metal– Ferrous
o Ferrous Light metal- bale-able items, thinner than 1/8”. Tiny pieces cannot be baled— they should be contained in a separate tin and placed into Non-R.
o Ferrous Heavy metal- no tiny pieces like bolts or nuts, washers, etc. unless contained—put into a tin galley can or cookie tin. Items larger than 1/8” thick.
o If it’s silver and shiny and you don’t have a magnet to test it—put it in Non-Ferrous (includes Stainless Steel)
o Galley Cans is separate category/tri-wall—flatten, paper is OK

• Metal– Non Ferrous (non- metallic metals)
o Mostly copper, brass, aluminum scrap
o No aluminum cans
o Anything with copper wiring is acceptable currently
o Anything silver and shiny goes here (if you don’t know if it’s ferrous/magnetic)

• Plastics
o Empty and clean plastic containers (all types). If a wee bit left, add water, swish and use up the last of it…
o Lids off, but stay in Plastic (some are recyclable)
o Bubble wrap
o Mylar, cellophane, plastic bags, any filmy stuff
o Foam peanuts (must be bagged & tied)
o Styrofoam, foam rubber, egg-crate foam (in Non-R is also OK but prefer bagged in PL)
o Nothing contaminated with Haz or food
o Empty oil, glycol, fuel containers or contaminated plastic goes to Haz—no need for HWIS, just call.

• Skua
o Clean, wearable clothing and shoes (no underwear)
o Useable items
o No trash please
o Anything with rips, cracks or shreds = Non-R or to the VMF for rags

A map of the DZ Waste Line

A map of the DZ Waste Line

• Mixed Paper
o All paper products without food contamination
o Magazines, newspapers, post-it notes, white/colored paper, paper board, books, etc.
o Paperboard is things like six-pack holders, beer/soda case boxes, cereal boxes
o No candy wrappers
o Envelopes w/ windows OK
o Waxy paper from label or laminate backing = Paper Towels

• Electronic Scrap
o End of life electronics, anything with a circuit board. Cables with copper wire go into Non-Ferrous Metal—the plastic sheathing is ok. (mice and extension cords = Non-R)

• Wood/Contaminated Wood
o Paint, glue, oil contaminates ok
o No big pieces of metal please, a few nails/screws are ok

• Food Waste
o “Anything that will rot”
o Shipped in refrigerated/freezer mil-vans, melted and burned at US facility
o Double bagged
o Any and all food contaminated items including cig butts, tea bags, spit cans, paper plates…

• Non-Recyclable
o Mixed media materials: bottle caps, corks, pens/pencils, air filters
o Anything that doesn’t belong in other categories
o Small, fly-away bits should be separately contained/bagged
o PVC, polyethylene, insulation (foams OK in Non-R but prefer bagged in Plastic)
o Guinness glass bottles (b/c of widget)
o Broken glass/ light bulbs (protected inside separate container—e.g. box, taped shut)
o Broken fluorescent tubes/bulbs are Haz, double-bag and contact Waste

• Paper Towels
o Paper towels, napkins, tissues with little or no bio-waste
o Hand warmers and wrappers
o Non-food-contaminated aluminum foil, tape, candy wrappers, foil-lined boxes
o Bagged and tied shut please

Example placards that are posted on and above trash cans around the station:
MIXED PAPER

NON-FERROUS METAL 2011

OILY RAGS

DZ at 11am this morning - you can see the waste line on the snow to the right.

DZ at 11am this morning – you can see the waste line on the snow to the right.

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