Nature & Awareness

This Is How Waste Is Recycled In Antarctica

It’s not a minor thing when concern about environment and surroundings just come out through various discussions that comprised of waste management and other cleanliness related issues.

Talking about the same and thinking something very far from us where vegetation and human habitat is not present , Antarctica, the white continent , have you ever imagined how the waste is managed there ?!


Above is the view from the Rothera Research Station on Adelaide Island, off the coast of mainland Antarctica.

The base is the largest of three run by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in the British Antarctic Territory.

Rothera is self-sufficient – it has a laboratory, offices, workshops, accommodation, a canteen, TV rooms, a surgery, a runway and hangar for aircraft, and a wharf to receive ships.

In winter, when the temperature can plummet to -20C, only 20 people stay on base. But during the Antarctic summer, when visibility and weather conditions are less severe, up to 120 staff are stationed there from October to May.

With all 30 countries that have a presence in Antarctica following strict rules to not disturb natural ecological systems, waste removal and recycling is a very serious business at Rothera.

Over the last five years, the BAS – a governmental body – has recycled between 81-88% of the waste produced at its research stations.

At Rothera, as project support coordinator and base general assistant, waste management is a key part of Craig Nelson’s job.

“Each day varies, but normally the job will take till 6pm in the evening, and even then you might be required to do even longer hours depending on flights,” he says.

“Planes come back in the evening until midnight, and you’d be expected to help out, unload the aircraft, sort out the equipment, take it to the necessary places, and the waste as well.”

All waste at the base is sent to a metal hut called the Miracle Span. And in domestic areas of the station, there are recycling bins for glass, paper, cardboard, plastic and cans.

Waste generated by research missions also has to be sorted; the BAS recycles everything from batteries, tetra packs, IT equipment, toner and inkjet cartridges, to wood, scrap metal, rope and textiles.

Cleaning up Antarctica

The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) regulates British activities in Antarctica through the Antarctic Act (1994), which enforces the Protocol. Under these regulations the FCO require BAS to remove redundant facilities. The clean-up of these bases, which are spread over a wide geographical area, represents a significant logistical challenge.

Large quantities or building material, hazardous wastes, fuel and rubbish have been removed from:

  • South Georgia Island (huts, reindeer exclosure fences and other remains removed from Carlita Bay, Johnson Beach, Moltke Harbour, Hound Bay, Husvik, Tønsburg Point, Ocean Harbour, Søsrling Valley and Schleiper Bay, 2005/06);
  • Bird Island, the station complex was redeveloped in 2005 and old buildings demolished and removed;
  • Danco Island and Prospect Point (Stations O and J removed 2003/04);
  • Fossil Bluff (waste dump removed 2002/03);
  • Signy Research Station (unused buildings and fuel tank removed 2001/02);
  • Bonner Laboratory, (remains of building destroyed by fire in September 2001, removed from Rothera Research Station);
  • Portal Point (Reclus Hut dismantled 1996/97 and transported to the Falkland Islands Museum);
  • Orford Cliff (hut removed 1996/97);
  • Admiralty Bay (Station G removed by the Brazilian Antarctic Expedition, 1995/6); and
  • Anvers Island (remains of Station N removed by US personnel, 1990/01).

Rather than being removed, some former UK stations have been handed over to other Antarctic Treaty countries to operate as their own research stations and therefore reducing the need for new buildings to be constructed in Antarctica. Former UK stations Hope Bay Station D has been transferred to Uruguay, Faraday Station F is now operated by the Ukraine and Adelaide Station T and View Point Station V have been transferred to Chile.

The Protocol’s clean up requirements exclude Historic Sites and Monuments designated under the Antarctic Treaty system. Designations of UK retired stations and huts which are now recognised for their heritage values include Port Lockroy Station A (Historic Site No. 61), Wordie House Station F (Historic Site No. 62) Horseshoe Island Station Y and Blaiklock Island Refuge (Historic Site No. 63), Stonington Island Station E (Historic Site No. 64), Detaille Island Station W (Historic Site No. 83) Damoy Hut (Historic Site No. 84) and Deception Island Station B (Historic Site No. 71).

“[Our] colleagues in the Antarctic are incredibly resourceful and very good at repairing and reusing materials rather than just consigning them to be recycled,” says Rachel Clarke, head of the environment office at BAS.

“For example, at Rothera there are chairs made from old skis, tables made from cable drums – and I think a wedding dress has been made from an old tent,” she says.

To prevent the accidental introduction of insects or parasites, staff cannot bring their own food to the station – it has to be vetted and specially packed to reduce extraneous packaging, and meat comes deboned.

The station reduces food wastage by using odds and ends in soups, or reheating leftovers. What food cannot be recycled is incinerated on site together with medical waste.

Everything that can be recycled is compressed using a compactor and placed in super strong flexible intermediate bulk container (FIBC) bags.

These bags can be safely left on the wharf in the open for extended periods, until ships are able to pick them up and bring them back to the UK, once every two to six months.

Other rubbish that can’t be recycled is sent to landfill in the Falkland Islands, together with used clothes that are given to charity.

Everything else returns to the UK, where French resource management firm Veolia takes over.

Once the waste is unloaded onto the quayside at a port, staff check and package the waste, then load it into vehicles.

Recyclables are sent to one of Veolia’s material recovery facilities, while hazardous waste is segregated at Stewartby transfer station, 50 miles north of London, before being treated at a specialist site.

Veolia estimates that in 2017, it collected approximately 61 tonnes of waste from BAS, and 93% of it was recycled.


Managing wastes at remote locations requires innovative solutions. BAS has worked with a local engineering firm to develop a portable hydraulic drum crusher which can easily be dismantled, loaded into a twin otter plane and flown out to remote field depots to crush empty drums. This dramatically reduces the flying hours and aviation fuel needed to remove the drums from the field.

Professor Howard Dalton (Chief Scientist, DEFRA) commented during his visit to Rothera in January 2006 how “seriously impressed” he was with the BAS waste management strategy.



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