I returned to the Waste Barn today in the early afternoon at James’s suggestion. That’s
the time of day when trash is collected from the dorms and hauled up to the Barn for processing. It’s called Trash Attack.
Trash Attack starts with a large, loud loader entering and emptying the contents of its monster dumpster onto the Barn floor.
When the dumpster retreats, waste techs Ben, Alice, and Erin launch their assault.
They hurl the bags and boards into various corners of the Barn, depending on the bin or machine the material is destined for. In five minutes’ time, the central floor space is clear again.
Among the job’s perks is finding cool stuff in the trash. The Barn’s walls are testament to that, adorned with all sorts of objects made from reclaimed material. The most prominent is an Oscar the Grouch mask, the Waste Barn’s mascot, who comes off the back wall for special occasions such as McMurdo’s Icestock music festival where he’s used as the head of a parading Chinese dragon-like creature.
Next, the techs tend to their newly-formed piles. A plastic baling machine operates in one corner; an aluminum can compactor in another. I’d seen signs around town asking McMurdites not to crush their cans. That’s because stomped cans can’t be efficiently processed in the Waste Barn’s recycling compactor.
There’s a large box just for electrical wire and another for glass. In the picture above, a conveyor belt transports cardboard up to the baler near Oscar.
Trash Attack exemplifies the Waste Barn’s function at McMurdo. This is where the community’s sorting efforts are reviewed and fine tuned, mixed paper and plastics bins are inspected for contamination, glass is sorted by color, and refuse gets weighed, recorded, and packaged for removal from the continent. It’s a lot of work, made manageable only by people’s willingness to do their part in town.
Trash Attack is over and the doors close till the next dumpster arrives a few moments later. I ask Ben how he likes working here in the Barn. “It’s great,” he replies. “You sort stuff, and then you get to smash it!” Not a bad way to make a living. In Antarctica no less.