following essay by Malcolm Wells was originally published
in Energy Essays, Edmund Scientific Co., and
reprinted in Notes from the Energy Underground,
1980, Van Nostrand Reinhold.
Return to Index of Essays.
Birds of Bellazon
Jersey is what most of us call that paradise of asphalt and
neon lying between Philadelphia and New York. But there's
another Jersey, an island off the coast of France. That other
Jersey is about twice the size of Manhattan, which makes it
pretty small for an ocean island, but with its population
of only 100, 000 people, most of whom are crowded into its
quaint coastal towns, Jersey has room for hundreds of little
stone-walled farms and miles of wild seacoast. It's quite
Being an island and being dependent on tourism and agriculture,
Jersey can afford neither the ugliness nor the land destruction
that municipal dumps involve. So, when the island trash problem
began to get out of hand 10 or 15 years ago, the people in
charge, being a different breed, apparently, from U.S. politicians,
decided to find an innovative way to turn their liabilities
into assets. Maybe it's just my rose-colored tourist-glasses
and my Watergate cynicism, but politics seems more o an honorable
profession over there.
Anyway, when they began to run out of trash-dumping space,
the Jerseymen looked at all the alternatives and decided to
follow nature's ancient example: return the wastes to the
land. In a hidden valley, they built a processing plant that
not only turns trash, garbage, and sewage into organic mulch
but also runs itself-motors, lights, and all-on electricity-
generated by the marsh gas that bubbles out of the sewage.
Not all trash can be composted, of course; some must be recycled.
Jersey's bulk cardboard and paper arc sold to London papermakers,
and the metal and glass are sold as scrap. The plastics are
incinerated. That's only sad part--the incineration-even though
it's minor compared to the mountains of wastes that aren't
incinerated. But it is sad. On the day I visited that valley
I saw smoke before I saw anything else.
Bellazon Valley is narrow, wide enough for only a tiny stream,
a strip of forest, and a road. Walking toward that valley
from Jersey's on1y city. I was soon out among the tiny farms.
I congratulated the Jersey men on the fact that one of the
world's best waste-management plants was located in one of
the .vorld's nicest spots. Then I saw smoke straining the
brilliant sky. For tile next quarter mile I could see nothing
of the plant but a giant chiimney above the trees-and seagulls,
hundreds of them, flying in and out of the smoke, excited
by something I couldn't see. Then the plant came into view.
Well, it's no architect's dream, but then what would you expect?
It looks like a cell block for the outcasts of Jersey, and
that s exactly what it is. The gull-exciternent was caused
by all the food scraps in the garbage. The birds were stealing
it right off the trucks, and they were screaming their heads
off telling me about it.
I won't bore you with all tile details of the Bellazon plant.
Just take in% word that It is impressive. I'm cans leap out
of the trash and ride away on magnetic conveyors. Big trash
is pulverized into little trash. And treated sewage-sludge
is vacuum-dried on strange machines and turned into fragrant
Quite a sight.
Then the whole mixture, tons and tons of it every hour, is
dumped into tile top of a six-story building, where the heat
of natural composting turns the stuff into useful land-mulch.
Each day's mixture is automatically turned and dropped to
the next level until, on the sixth day, it falls into the
waiting trucks of happy farmers. flow do I know they're happy?
They must be; they wait in line and pay for tile stuff. They
can't wreck their farms with government-subsidized chemical
fertilizers the way we can. Some farmers buy straight sewage
sludge; others buy tile full mixture.
Now you know all about the waste-management plant in Bellazon
Valley, but I suspect the full relevance of the story to your
own town may still be obscure, so let me explain: your town
is in deep trouble. It suffers along with mine from over-richness,
a disease Our troubled econorny may slowly cure. But for years
to come we'll continue to throw away incredible amounts of
waste materials while others starve.
Chances are the people in your town still rob the land by
putting lawn cuttings and autumn leaves in plastic bags for
collection along other "wastes." Chances are your
own weekly trash could fill the back of a Volkswagen. A lot
of the blame must go to the people who produce double wrappings
and Junk mail, but the fact remains we all wastes.
The IsIe-of-Jerscy process isn't the final answer, but just
think of the promise it holds! Everywhere that you see desolation,
unernployment, filthy rivers, and city dumps you could be
seeing lush, green land, gardens, gardeners, and crystal waters
again, simply by turning wastes into riches as the Jerseymen
Think what a hero your mayor would be if he closed the city
dump, turned wastes into compost, and sold it to reduce your
taxes! Think about the beautiful waste-processing center that
would house the process: a manmade park-trash and sewage going
in one end, wealth and jobs coming out the other. It will
happen, you know, when we care enough. All you have to do
is put the squeeze on city hall.
Then you can tell me about the happy birds where you live.
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