Dec. 22, 1998
Letter 6: Waste Management
Dear Everyone, The philosophy of Antarctic waste management is simple: What comes to the ice will eventually need to go out. Everything for the support of human life in Antarctica must be shipped or flown in and the same holds true in reverse. This waste material is called "retrograde" in Antarctica and is sent to the United States for recycling, reuse or proper disposal. In fact, it is my understanding that the retrograde of McMurdo and South Pole Stations is shipped to Washington State. Five million pounds of accumulated refuse is removed from Antarctica each year. The payoff is the unsurpassed beauty of the cleanest and least disturbed continent that provides the world with a unique opportunity for scientific research. Our part in Antarctic waste management started in August as I began shopping for and packing our allotted 40 pounds per person of personal supplies and indoor clothing for our 3 ¸ months on the ice. Actually, we were allowed 75 pounds per person which included the 35 pounds of ECW clothing issue from the Clothing Distribution Center in Christchurch. Our "Parcticipant Guide" book told us to buy and take items that were as environmentally friendly as possible. No aerosols. Biodegradable soaps and shampoos. Eliminate as many plastic and throwaway containers as possible in order to reduce volume in waste disposal in Antarctica. To the extent possible, pack personal toiletries in ziplock bags. As I amassed all of the personal consumables I calculated needing over 3 ¸ months, I was astounded at the huge pile of soap wrappers and boxes, shrink-wrap, toothpaste and Q-tip boxes, skin care and cosmetic packaging, vitamin and aspirin bottles to name a few that filled up my trash bag. As I looked at this large pile of unnecessary trash that was attached to the consumer products I had just purchased, I was appalled at the amount of waste we needlessly buy and expect our environment to absorb. Most of our personal products were easily repacked into the ziplock bags or reusable containers that I would be taking off the ice when I departed. We were asked to follow the backpacker's rule: Pack it in, pack it out. Not only waste management, but also the law affected what we brought with us to Antarctica. The Antarctic Conservation Act of 1978 and the new regulation with this act of 1993 making compliance mandatory takes a close look at items that would be a normal part of household trash and governs their waste management and disposal in Antarctica. Waste management and recycling are tied to our professional job evaluations while on the ice. At home most of us recycle household trash according to paper, glass, metal or plastic; but at the South Pole Station we separate waste into the following 17 categories: aluminum, batteries, cardboard, clothing, construction debris, domestic burnables (ie. paper towels and tissue paper), food and food contaminated waste, glass, hazardous waste (ie. paint, glue), magazines and newspapers, heavy metal, light metal, plastic, product containers (ie. toothpaste tubes, deodorant containers), white paper, wood (ie. crates and pallets), and treated or painted wood. Each of these categories can ultimately be classified into one of the following areas: waste-to-energy, recyclables, disposables, or hazardous. Books and magazines are shared and passed from one person to the next and are collected in the various lounges. When it's time to clean out the lounges, these books and magazines are retrograded for donation to charities or for disposal. In hallways or the entry areas of office or living spaces are mini-recycling areas with labeled wastebaskets or bins. Inside the dome, outside the summer camp quarters and the cargo area are large recycling centers comprised of labeled cardboard containers of either cubic dimensions of 70 inches or 32 inches depending upon the typical amount of waste generated. A decision must be made concerning everything to be thrown away. Waste does not get casually tossed into a wastebasket never to be thought of again. The South Pole Station generates approximately 14,000 pounds of trash per week. This waste is palletized and flown to McMurdo where it is reprocessed for shipping. Cardboard, light metal, aluminum, and burnables are baled. Food and food contaminated waste is retrograded in refrigerated milvans. Between McMurdo and the South Pole there are 10 people employed in Waste Management. They work entirely outside driving large Cats, banding cartons, and spend much of their time in the demolition of construction debris for retrograding. As building progresses toward the new station completion in approximately 5 years and the old station is gradually dismantled, materials are being reused to the extent possible. Prohibited in Antarctica are hazardous and toxic substances, houseplants and non-sterile soil which introduce non-indigenous species, and polystyrene packing materials such as peanuts and chips because they potentially threaten wildlife. Aerosols are discouraged because of their contents or their pressurization as well as non-reusable plastic containers and dry cell batteries. Rechargeable batteries are recommended. Newspapers, catalogs, magazines, and junk mail are discouraged and Antarctic parcticipants are told not to forward their mail to the ice. Hot plates are forbidden, I assume, because of fire hazard and high-energy consumption. All other small appliances, if we bring them with us, are expected to go out with us. It's the backpacker's rule again. As of this week, South Pole Station population is around 188 with 131 people employed by Antarctic Support Associates, 50 scientists and 7 others here on temporary duty. Women comprise approximately 20% of our total population. There are only 4 married couples working here. On December 21st we had a special visitor. Ola Skinnarmo, 26 year-old blonde and blue eyed Swede with a ready smile, set out on an unsupported solo ski on November 5th from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole with the aim of arriving here in 55 days. Ola had good weather and good health all the way and accomplished his goal in only 47 days. Ola is the first Swede to accomplish this feat of human endurance. Les and I were in the galley after work having breakfast for our dinner when his arrival was announced at around 6:30 a.m. We rushed off to Comms for our ECW clothing and hurried out to the South Pole marker to greet him. There were only about 10 of us who went to welcome him, but the 4 Swedes on station were there with their country's flag. Having not seen a human being or anything alive for that matter in 47 days, Ola was overwhelmed and said, "So many people!" Handshakes, hugs, congratulations and lots of photos followed. From there the 4 Swedes took over and escorted Ola into the dome and galley for food and more welcoming. That same evening as I was heading off to work I ran into Ola as he was coming into the elevated dorm for a hot shower. After another hand crushing handshake, he touched the rhinestone Christmas tree pin I was wearing (yes, I had to bring something fun along to the harsh continent to wear for the holidays) and said, "Ah, yes, Christmas is in a few days!" as if he'd lost track of time on his 47 days alone on the ice. If you read Swedish, you may want to look at Ola's web site at: http://www.sydpolen.com. Something about him tells me he will succeed in just about any goal he sets out to achieve. The station cooks and baker are busily preparing for our Christmas dinner. The galley is decorated and filled with good smells and the sounds of Christmas music. We are all looking forward to our celebration on Friday. Following is the weekly climatological summary prepared by the South Pole Station meteorologists. Best wishes for the holidays, Sandi
Recycling containers inside the dome.
Photo by Les Kolb.
SOUTH POLE WEEKLY CLIMATOLOGICAL SUMMARY 11 December 1998 through 17 December 1998 UTC Temperatures: Avg Temp...-28.8 (C) / -19.8 (F) Max Temp...-22.2 (C) / -8.0 (F) on day 17 Min Temp...-31.9 (C) / -25.4 (F) on day 12 Sky Cover: Avg Sky Cover (8ths)... 6 Days clear............. 1 Days partly cloudy..... 3 Days cloudy............ 3 Sunshine: Sunset on 21 March Sunrise on 23 September Avg hours/day......... 16.9 Percent of possible... 70.6 Station Pressure (millibars): Avg pressure........ 683.0 mbs Highest pressure.... 689.7 mbs on day 17 Lowest pressure..... 676.0 mbs on day 11 Physio-altitude in feet and meters: Average physio-alt = 10515 ft / 3205 m Highest physio-alt = 10779 ft / 3285 m on day 11 Lowest physio-alt = 10264 ft / 3128 m on day 17 Visibility: 0 days with visibility of 1/4 mile or less. Wind: Avg wind speed............ 7.5 mph or 6.5 kts Max gust.................. 20 mph or 17 kts on day 11 Max gust direction........ from grid Northwest Vectored wind direction... 014 degrees Vectored wind speed....... 5.2 kts Prevailing direction...... grid Northeast Balloon flight data: Number of Soundings for the period.... 14 Avg hgt of Soundings...... 54.4 mbs Highest Sounding.......... 5.3 mbs, or 36369 meters on day 12/00Z flight. 0 Soundings were missed. 6 Soundings were terminated due to balloon burst. 2 Soundings were terminated due to flight equipment failure. 6 Soundings were terminated due to weak or fading signal. **RECORDS** No records were tied or broken during the period. Sandra Kolb,ASA South Pole Station PSC 468 Box 400 APO AP 96598-5400 e-mail: KOLBSA@spole.gov amateur radio: NE7V