Week 7: Polluman vs. SupErdre

This past week went by really quickly; I had a lot to do and see, so my mind was occupied a lot of the time. It started to get cold in Metz, too, so I had to break out the warmest coat I have (which I fear won’t be up to par with the imminent weather of October). Despite all of this, too, I had an amazing week. We were able to teach some French children about pollution and good practices for a healthy earth while they filmed some short skits about the environment. At the end of the week, we visited a methanation plant and learned a little more about the different types of waste and how this plant has decided to effectively process them.

At a local French elementary school, we were invited to a small class to give a short general lesson with one of our fellow French students, Salimata Coulibaly, working with the European Institute of Ecology. We talked to the children about pollution of the Earth and of our air, deforestation, water pollution (as well), and some solutions to these problems (like recycling and composting). We asked them to propose solutions for these problems to us, and I was genuinely surprised by the amount of knowledge and awareness that the children had, as far as environmental causes are concerned. They advocated for recycling, of course, but specifically, for reducing waste by buying products without plastic packaging and by using reusable bags and water bottles. They thought big, too, explaining that we should hire people to go out on boats and clean the plastic out of the water with giant nets. I was inspired by their excitement in trying to answer our questions; they would talk over each other, yell, and get up out of their seats. I was really proud of them, honestly, that they were that excited about what they knew about living green and that they tried to teach me as well.

After our little lesson, we filmed some skits that they had prepared in groups each covering a different subject that we had just discussed: pollution of the ground, wastefulness, pollution of water, and pollution of air. For each skit, there was an antagonist “polluman” (for pollution) trying to get the other children to pollute or do bad things to the earth and a protagonist “SupErdre” (for the super hero) persuading the children to, instead, do good by the environment. They were assigned roles and memorized a script for each of their little screenplays. I had so much fun helping with the props and feeding the children lines when they forgot them. They must have practiced a lot, though, because I rarely had to help them.

Later in the week, as I said before, we traveled to a methanization plant called Sydeme (Household Waste Union of East Moselle) in Forbach, France where we received an informative presentation, detailing how the plant worked. This particular facility was very interesting to me because we have visited other waste treatment facilities and no other has a procedure quite like this one. They put the work of the sorting on the customer by asking them to sort their trash into “green” waste (compostable, biodegradable wastes) into a green bag, recycling (milk cartons, plastic bottles, cardboard, etc.) into an orange bag, and then everything else into a large blue bag. The bags aren’t too large, though, because they also limit the size of the bag (weight of waste it can hold) to a certain amount per bag in order to motivate people to reduce their waste. After, they’re sorted by color and each go to different locations: recycling goes to a recycling center, general waste (blue bags) go to an incinerator, and the green waste comes to the methanization plant, where we visited. Here, the waste is put into large digesters that stir and regulate the temperature of the mixture. After a series of passes through the process, the waste has been turned into quality fertilizer (liquid part of waste) or nutrient-rich topsoil (solid product of composting). The methane part of the process is in extracting the natural gas that’s released as a product of fermentation in the digesters. This methane is filtered and then stored to use as fuel (for their natural gas vehicles) and for public refueling, as well. They also use the methane as a source of fuel for energy to run the plant, a perfect example of a circular economy. They take people’s green waste and treat it, turning it into topsoil that can be used to grow more food (resulting in green waste), also utilizing the methane produced from that treatment to run the plant. Genius!

My favorite part of the tour was the greenhouse, where we got to see and even taste some of the fruits and veggies that they grow onsite with their composted soil. They’re proud of what they do, and their success shows. People pay a subscription to be a part of this, and all that they’re doing is processing their waste. The valorization of wastes needs to be a more commonplace thing back in the United States. I feel like the only places that do it are far off and unknown. Is there somewhere in Atlanta where I can be a part of good practices like this one? Guess I just found something new to explore on the internet. I’ll keep you all posted!