23 March, 2001
-051 16 Longitude
035 25 S Latitude
Recycling Aboard The Ship
My name is Robbie Liben. I am the Network Administrator on the ship. I keep the computers running and the users happy. I've also started a recycling program on board. At home, I do computer work for environmental organizations, native rights groups and a range of progressive non-profits. My heart is in the politics and computer support is how I can help good organizations do what needs to be done. I have done such work since my eighth grade class gathered 20,000 signatures on a petition to the New York City Council to pass a bottle bill in the 1970s.
I've worked for two summers at McMurdo Station, the largest research base in Antarctica. The only waste that stays in McMurdo is sewage. Everything else, including food waste is sent back to the US. There are almost thirty categories of waste segregation there, and most people there are pleased that recycling is so easy and so thorough. It wasn't always that way, though. Winter Quarters Bay, the port at McMurdo, is one of the most polluted bays in the world. Up until 1990 the Navy way to deal with waste was to put it on the sea ice and wait for the ice to melt. The Antarctic Treaty says that anyone can inspect any country's bases anywhere in Antarctica at any time. So in 1990 Greenpeace showed up and inspected McMurdo. They documented this behavior and got news stories about it printed in several US newspapers. The National Science Foundation changed how waste is managed there. Now McMurdo is a model of how effective a recycling can be.
When I inquired about shipboard recycling most people just laughed. The ships are based in Punta Arenas, Chile, and there are apparently no recycling facilities there. The past two cruises I've been on have started in Hobart, Australia, which has an excellent recycling program. During the first cruise, I worked with the Captain and the Marine Projects Coordinator to set up collection points for recyclables. Most people, scientists, crew and support staff greeted the new program enthusiastically.
This cruise we've collected 300-400 kg, so far. Materials include paper, cardboard, cans, plastic and glass. We've set up a place down below deck in the cargo hold for storing the stuff. Cape Town, South Africa, our next port, also has good recycling facilities and can accept everything we've collected. The volunteer help of Romeo and Wendy has been invaluable. The pictures are of me (with the beard) and Romeo.
So, what will happen next? For now, the recycling program on this ship will end with this cruise. After Cape Town the ship is heading back to Punta Arenas where there are no recycling facilities. The next time I am in Punta Arenas I will investigate whether environmental groups there may be trying to create them. Recycling should be a way of life and I want to do what I can to help make it a reality where ever I go.
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