Sunday, October 26, 2008


I spent the last two weeks in Frankfurt. I had no idea I would have such a dynamic experience.

During my two-week internship at Frankfurt International Airport (Fraport), I got to look in lots of dumpsters. The waste folks were extremely gracious to me and even lined up tours at a local incinerator, hazardous waste facility, and recycling sorting facility. It was excellent.

On the weekends, Patrick and I benefited from amazing weather. The photos in this slideshow are from our time in Frankfurt, Wiesbaden, Koln (Cologne), and Bonn. Most of the photos were taken by Patrick (who, by the way, went above and beyond the call of duty providing not only a room, but a full fridge, soap, music, a bike, and lots of laughs. Thank you, Patrick).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Boston Begins

My favorite online environmental news source, Grist, tipped me off a moment ago on a story about a proposed ordinance that would force Boston haulers to offer recycling services to their customers.

My first reaction is, "Seriously? They don't offer recycling yet? Even with the current value of paper and metals? Sheesh. That's like throwing money away."

My next reactions include hints of dialog used during my MPA (Master of Public Administration) studies. I wouldn't go as far as to say that I have fully developed my shrewd analytical skillz... but I know I didn't think this way two years ago. So thanks, PSU. Here are some reactions:

REACTION 2: "Ohh...Of course. They need to remove the barriers to participation before they force businesses to recycle. This is just the first step -- offering recycling in the first place. D'uh."

REACTION 3: "Hmmm...I wonder how the city will further align its policies with the behavior it wishes to promote. That is, if this ordinance passes, will Boston then require businesses to recycle? If so, what will be the penalty for not participating? How will they monitor it?"

REACTION 4: "I wonder what the landfill tipping fees are in the Boston metro region."

REACTION 5: "Since Boston is such a hip, student town, I wonder if any campuses would be interested in following the CES model from Portland State University, where students offer technical assistance to businesses interested in waste reduction and recycling."

REACTION 6: "I wonder what fee structure will be adopted."

REACTION 7: "I need to go to bed."

PS -- In the interest of full disclosure, I am related to Grist through my super duper talented brother-in-law. Every day, when I get the Grist List, I think, "Oh goody, Chip's little newsletter!" Heh. They have about a zillion subscribers. Love it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Focusing in Frankfurt

It was a perfect Fall weekend with crisp, clear weather. My host, Patrick, showed me all around Frankfurt and a bit of the Rhine Valley. This is one of my favorite shots, with the typical Frankfurt trash cans in focus in the background.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hard Discount Stores - A Visit to Aldi

A few weeks ago I read an article about "hard discount" stores (Wall Street Journal; September 30, 2008; Passariello). The article talked about how these stores offer 900-1600 products, compared to large supermarkets that usually offer 20,000 products. By limiting the selection these deep discount stores save costs, which they pass onto the consumer. (Sounds like Walmart, but isn't.)

This weekend I got to experience one of the stores mentioned in the article -- Aldi -- first hand. It was like a regular store, but with no frills.

Any good conversation about waste management begins with a nod towards the ever-taboo topic (but gaining popularity) of consumption. This "hard discount" retail model -- offering a limited selection and saving on costs associated with "buying, packaging, transporting, and displaying" goods -- has some interesting implications. Not quite sure what those implications are just yet; my noodle is still cooking the subject. Please feel free to share your thoughts.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The "Hunde-WC"

Okay. So I went to Wellesley College, a fancy schmancy school outside of Boston (indeed, the one that has sponsored this trash & travel voyage). I always got a kick out of the fact that its initials -- WC -- also stand for "water closet" (or toilet) in Europe.

The other day, on a run outside of Frankfurt, I came across the ultimate water closet: the "Hound WC." Yup, dog poo. A topic I have covered before. I was particularly intrigued by the 3-step process depicted in diagrams.

Thought you might like these pictures, and this article (in German) that estimated that 400,000 piles of dog poo are generated each day by the pooches in Berlin. That equates to 50,000 tons of dog-doo per year, or 146 million little landmines.

Oh I love this job.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

41 Miles to the Gallon

A little bit of email 'humor'...

If you had purchased $1,000 shares of Delta Airlines one year ago, you would have $49.00 today.  If you had purchased $1,000 shares in AIG one year ago, you would have $33.00 today.  If you had purchased $1,000 shares in Lehman Brothers one year ago, you would have $0.00 today.

But, if you had purchased $1,000 worth of beer one year ago, drank all the beer, then turned in the aluminum cans for recycling, you would have $214.00.  Based on the above, the best current investment plan is to drink heavily and recycle.  It is called the 401-Keg.

A recent study found that the average American walks about 900 miles a year.  Another study found that Americans drink, on average, 22 gallons of alcohol a year.  That means that, on average, Americans get about 41 miles to the gallon.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Coburg, Germany

I had originally intended my week in Coburg, Germany, to be down-time... to do laundry (my first real load in 4 weeks of traveling)... to catch up on emails... and to just have a little home-away-from-home for a few days. I did all of that, but also managed some exploring.

Just north of Coburg is a waste-to-energy plant called Mullhelzkraftwerk. On a very rainy morning, I biked over to check it out. I didn't get past the front gate (understandably), but they did give me a very descriptive brochure with a line-drawing detailing all steps of burning trash. Now my German vocabulary is expanding from my already questionable repertoire of "front handspring" and "mud fight" to include "Verdampfer" and "Kalkmilch-Vorratsbehalter" (translation anyone?).

As I was biking away from the incineration plant, I spotted some stacked pallets, cubed paper, and piles of plastic: a materials recovery facility! It was called Schmidt & Wagner. They handle paper, plastic, metals, and miscellaneous materials in the region.

Ten kilometers east (by this point I was very muddy, wet, and cold), I knocked on the door of another materials recovery facility in Blumenrod. In between trucks toting trash, I secured a glossy brochure of this enterprise headed up by Veolia, an international waste management service.

Really, though, the best part of my time in Coburg (professionally) was the local recycling depot, which has a place for every thing and a thing for every place. The men working there were thrilled to be photographed. I particularly liked the metal frame holders for Styrofoam. Pictures of the recycling depot and the rest of my time in Coburg (including a 50-km bike trip to Bamberg) are here.

Ruth, the mother of my friend, Judith, lives in Coburg and hosted me while I was there. She walks in the woods for at least an hour every day. She bikes all around town. She runs a ballet studio. She smokes cigarettes on her balcony and drinks coffee at all hours. She is just the kind of person with whom you want to sit down at the kitchen table with figure out the meaning of life... all while eating yummy bread and cheese. Thank you, Ruth, for everything. (Thank you, Wenzel, for lending me your bike.)

Czeching out Prague

I spent two days in Prague with my parents. They gave me my doses of "cul-chah" for the year with live music (opera & chamber music), descriptions of architecture (Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque), and a new appreciation for Art Nouveau (via Mucha). I, in turn, gave them a new appreciation for trash cans.

Here are some pictures from Prague.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Geriatric Cruise in Croatia

With an unexpected deviation from my original Trash Tour itinerary, in late September 2008, I went sailing off the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia with my parents and their friends.
While my parents don't always point in the same direction (see photo below), they have managed to stay in the same boat for 40 years. It was really nice to spend this time with them (and their longtime friends Betsy & Bruno, Peggy & Michael, Barbara & Chip, Alice & Peter, and Stan). They joked that it was a geriatric cruise... but I hope I am half as adventuresome when I am 65 years old. Yes, I weathered a few discussions about hip replacements, scars, and grandchildren. But they all graciously let me take pictures of trash cans and get more excited about the local dump than Dioclecian's Palace. So we sailed...

Croatia -- nestled on the Adriatic next to Bosnia & Herzegovina, Hungary, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Italy -- has some sweet sailing.Here is the rough map I sketched in my journal of our route: Split --> Brac --> Hvar --> Korcula --> Komiza --> Stari Grad --> Split.

When there was wind, we sailed.
When there wasn't wind, we motored.

There was always something to look at by day...
...and by night.

It was neat to go ashore and see towns that have been around for thousands of years. My favorite part was all of the church towers that tolled on the hour.

I am ashamed to admit that we did very little recycling on our boat. I was terrible and quickly acquiesced to an excuse mindset that included thoughts such as, "There's not enough space," and, "Even if we do separate our wine bottles and paper, there aren't any recycling options at the marinas anyways." Eeek. I'll do better next time.

Here is Peter with 7 people's garbage from 24 hours.

Here are dumpsters typical of Croatia. Overall, it was a very tidy country (from what I saw).