When you think of antarctica, you think of vast, clean, white spaces, interrupted only by the occasional penguin, which may or may not be tap dancing. Scientists working with the U.S. Antarctic Program are obligated by the Antarctic Conservation Act to maintain that pristine environment. With no landfill, incinerator or any other method of disposing of waste on site, virtually every single piece of material that is carried in must be carried back out again.
That can be quite a feat, given that the population of McMurdo Station, the largest community on the continent, balloons to as many 3,000 people in the peak seasons of spring and summer. McMurdo must also airlift trash from the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in preparation for the once-per-year ship that carries approximately 4.86 million pounds of waste back to the U.S.
To keep things organized and to help offset the immense cost of waste handling, every single item that can be recycled, is. The threat of stiff penalties — including up to $11,000 in fines, one year in prison, deportation from the continent and loss of research funding — helps make everyone a recycling adherent.
And you thought toting the recycling bin to the curb in your bathrobe was a drag.