Contributed by Dr. Adrianos Golemis and the European Space Agency (ESA)
For the winter-over crew living isolated for 9 months at Concordia Station, Antarctica, as you can imagine, resources are scanty and the need to plan carefully what it consumes is inexorable.
What is more, according to the Antarctic Treaty, all the waste produced in Antarctica must be transferred back to Europe or Australia to be recycled. For this reason, the crew always separates paper, aluminum, steel, glass and plastic when they throw something away in their everyday life at the Station. In order to reduce the volume of organic waste, a biological disintegrator has been installed at Concordia Station: This elegant solution exploits the capability of bacteria to digest organic waste, thereby vastly decreasing its mass.
Other than metal, plastic, paper and glass, they recycle… water! That’s right, sophisticated equipment developed by ESA is operated a few times a week at Concordia to filter, clean and re-use the water available for showering and washing our clothes or the dishes or even the floors. This machinery is not too different than what is used on the International Space Station (ISS). Morocco is already testing the same technology from ESA to provide and recycle water at one of its regions that is poor in hydration. Recycling water in Antarctica also reduces the amount of waste water that would otherwise have to be transported back.
There is also a big effort to be efficient as far as energy consumption is concerned. The two towers of the base are round, since it is easier to heat them in this way and demands less fuel. Energy consumption is closely monitored and adjusted – and all crew members try to be reasonable in our needs and careful in our everyday activities. No unnecessary devices must be switched on, no lights when we all go to sleep. Laundry should be done only when enough clothes to fill the machine are gathered. If all these became our habits globally and not only in Antarctica, the greenhouse effect would be less of a threat to our climate.
Concordia Station is built upon 3233m of ice, there is no solid ground beneath. Think about it, should human activity and air pollution continue unaltered, global warming would thwart the ice shelves and Concordia Station would be afloat amidst the waves while our homes in Europe would probably be below the new, elevated, sea level! On Thursday, June 5, it is the international celebration for the World Environment Day (WED). This can be a good reminder on how to become more responsible with respect to the environment in the daily activities, all of us. Please think of our tiny home in Antarctica, in danger of sinking beyond the sea should our current mentality of greed and disposal not change for the better! And remember that great changes start from small efforts made by every one of us on a constant basis.
The Grey Water Recycling Unit at Concordia Station (up & down). Can you count the filters?
The waste compactor and disintegrator devices. Feed them well!
Recycling in Antarctica? Yes!
Concordia Station, lonely amidst the infinite white. Help us keep it above the waves!