The thing with waste awareness

The thing with waste awareness

If you walk through the countryside with alert eyes, you’ll spot trash everywhere in rural Portugal. Construction debris and other garbage is simply laying in the next embankment. In a semi-derelicted Ruin still stand furniture and belongings. An old machine is rusting away in the middle of the meadow. About waste awareness in Portugal and how we deal with it.

Southern waste modernity

Overgrown legacies can be seen again and again in the countryside of the Alentejo. Sometimes these deposits seem poorly morbid, sometimes careless. Here’s a pile of construction rubble on the street corner, there’s some discarded material piled up in a garden. Scraps of plastic peek out of the small arable fields around the houses. Half-ruined tables still stand on the terrace of an abandoned café. The blackberries are always at hand, spreading their thorny mantle of oblivion over it. Some things seem to be frozen in a deep sleep. As if it had just been left and at the same time had long passed.

Also on Foz das Caveiras, the former living areas and economic areas were covered by this veil of discarded, left behind and undergrowth. In the fall of 2021, Bernhard spent several weeks bringing buildings and ruins out of their bramble dormancy and decluttering them. In retrospect, this remains disconcerting. Why does someone litter their living space? In Portugal there are public garbage containers everywhere. Why not dispose of it?

Disposal as a mission impossible

Waste awareness is still in its infancy in Portugal. Thus, we have recovered thousands of plastic growing pods from the olive plantations. These are still from when the plantations were established at least 15 years ago. Normally, they would be removed after a few years. In the meantime, the trees have blown up the sleeves and therefore they can be reused only with great effort. And what now with it? There is neither a waste collection point nor a recycling center.

Now, if necessary, you can gradually put these pods in the trash containers. However, it is practically impossible to dispose of real problem waste such as panels containing asbestos. Receiving offices are passed off as insider tips and they, in turn, belong to the neighboring district. So it also takes persuasion to be able to deliver there.

Around the industrial site we collected more than 25 m³ of concrete remains. But even a landfill for construction waste does not exist. Neither are there any other possibilities of preparation. Accordingly, our yard now resembles a recycling center. Well, and so we also develop a certain coexistence with the garbage.

Contaminated sites

Part of our premises was a small concrete block factory. On commercial sites, of course, you always have to expect “surprises”. Even in clean Germany, production waste is often simply buried. The information from the broker and the previous owner was only very general. Leaving it at that before buying was quite naive. Concrete blocks are by all means not only water, cement and gravel. Yet already the
Cement a problematic material
. But we could have learned little about all this, the plant comes from the penultimate owner.

In the end, it helped us once again to enter directly into the ordering and to listen with alert senses to the quiet murmur of things. Admittedly, it is a Sisyphean task to pull chunks of concrete mixed with garbage and barbed wire out of the ground or out from under the blackberries. Of course, we got some support. But machines can only do rough work here. And on top of that, we also had to kindly discourage the backhoe driver from burying the trash again. So we also have our moments when we feel like we are from another planet and prefer to do some things ourselves.

But we experience quite clearly how the experience of the terrain changes with the cleaning. Once the area is carefully cleared, it’s like nature breathes a sigh of relief. A lighter energy is spreading. Yes, of course, it’s all just our feeling. But without feeling everything is nothing!

As an aside, our trash archaeology also completes our understanding of the terrain. So we now know that the production was conceivably simple. In fact, only water, cement and gravel were used. The whole thing went on for several years, apparently without the hoped-for success. In the end, there was probably so little that even the cement was saved. Thus, some concrete residues can be broken by hand. Apart from further construction debris, there are no surprises to be feared.

From waste to resource

With the planned demolition of two large ruins, the construction debris will become a lot more. This almost automatically raises the question of whether this can’t be used. And yes, we would like to use the material for paving driveways as well as in place of frost protection in the future foundations. However, the processing is unresolved. Mobile crushing plants do not exist here. So it remains challenging to live waste consciousness.