August 04, 2018 05:45:51
There are expeditioners all year round at Australia’s Casey, Davis and Mawson stations in Antarctica.
Summer is the peak time, with close to 400 people posted there and on remote Macquarie Island.
Right now there’s 60 people working across the four stations. They all have to eat and, well, do their business.
It’s not as easy as just flushing and forgetting about it, and there’s no garbage trucks to swing by and collect the rubbish.
About 100,000 kilograms of food are required for yearly supplies and all waste has to be carefully managed.
Andy Sharman, the Australian Antarctic Division’s environmental manager, said effort was going into reducing packaging and minimising what had to be brought back to Australia as landfill.
When it comes to organising the waste at the stations, he said a simple approach was taken.
“We have a three-category system,” he told ABC Radio Hobart.
“There’s burnable waste, recyclables and return-to-Australia landfill.”
The stations have incinerators to burn waste.
“We’d rather not to do it and we try to minimise it,” Mr Sharman said.
“It’s not your backyard incinerator. It has multiple chambers where we try to get the burn as clean as possible.”
Food waste poses a challenge because biosecurity requirements mean it can’t be brought back into the country.
“The kitchen waste is one of those items that has to go into the incinerator, because we can’t do things like compost or actually bring waste that’s rotting back into Australia.”
Davis Station now has an advanced waste water treatment plant that doubles as an “insinkerator”.
“We can actually put our food waste into that waste water treatment plant and that then gets digested with the rest of the human waste and sewage,” Mr Sharman said.
Science and medical waste is also burnt.
There’s loos but no igloos
In the early years, urine was tipped into the ocean and solid waste was burnt or treated with caustic soda.
There are no igloos in Antarctica but there are now loos — all stations have flushing toilets and waste water treatment plants.
“We’re gradually rolling out tertiary treatment plants,” Mr Sharman said.
“If you’re fortunate enough to go out into the field and spend some time doing research, you do actually have to bring all your waste back with you.
“That goes into the treatment plant or incinerator.”
The plants have improved the quality of the effluent, and there’s plans to improve it further.
“We hope to get our advanced treatment plant up and running, which would treat the effluent to the point where the water is as clean as it was when we took it out of the environment,” Mr Sharman said.