a wet and cold day, would've been nice to just sit at home and wait out the weather except i had a trash tour to go to courtesy of the city of cambridge department of public works. it was actually supposed to be yesterday but the trash company asked if we could reschedule.
the big question was how would i get to the DPW office: walk or ride? despite the rain, riding the bike was the better option. it was a choice between walking half an hour or riding 7 minutes. even with the rain, it was worth it. i waited until a lull before quickly getting on the bike and heading down beacon/hampshire street. i took the trek 850 because i couldn't be certain the trek 800 wouldn't malfunction again, and i didn't want to be stranded on the road in the rain.
other than myself, there was only 5 other people going on the trash tour. more people like seeing the recycling facility than they do the trash incinerator. supposedly it can get awfully smelly but i was curious to see how bad it could get. randi was our liaison, the same young woman who led the recycling tours. in the group was jody and mark, a gay couple; kevin, a socially-awkward pimply asian kid with long hair eating a burrito; barry, a cantankerous old man wearing red pants and a leather vest (when asked for his first name, he responded with, "my first name is of no concern. i'l give you my middle name, which is the name i usually go by"); and an old lady.
i rode in jody and mark's car with kevin in the backseat, while barry and the old lady rode with randi. there wasn't much chitchat and at one point jody turned on the radio just to break the awkward silence. through the incessant rain we made it to the wheelabrator1 saugus waste-to-energy facility. we figured randi was well ahead of us but they were several minutes behind after running into some car issues and taking barry's car instead. while waiting for them to arrive, i was the one who asked everyone what they did for a living; jody builds gas stations, mark's a web designer, and kevin works at akamai.
our tour guide at the plant was a good natured man named don, who was one of the supervisors. after showing us an animated film of how the plant works, he took us through the facility. one caveat was that no photography was allowed inside. we were issued neon green hard hats and safety glasses, as well as ear plugs.
constructed in 1975, wheelabrator saugus was the first trash incinerator facility of its kind in america. from a glass wall control station we saw the trash pit where the garbage from the trucks are dumped. a technician was working an overhead traveling claw crane, scooping up the trash and put them into refuse hoppers that are fed into the furnaces (there were two). we went down below and actually looked through specially designed metal-hinged windows that looked into the fiery pits of the furnace burning at 2000°F.
the hot gases from the incinerated trash rise up into a boiler constructed with water-filled tubes that produce steam which in turn generate electricity to run the plant and surplus energy sold to the utility company. the gas is further scrubbed with ammonium-compounds, lime, and activated carbon to remove all toxins, taking one more pass through a bag house that removes any remaining particles, before rising out of the smokestack (passing through monitors that make sure nothing poisonous is being released). we also saw the central control room, a mixture of 1970's style dials and buttons and computer monitors with various readouts. leftover debris from the furnace go onto a conveyer belt that separates out the ash from the metal solids; the solids go to a recycling facility while the inert ash go to a landfill.
what surprised me about the facility was how environmentally-conscious it was. i just thought they burned the trash and that was it, but i never thought about the poisonous gases that get released. i'm still not clear about the net energy usage; is the plant entirely self-sufficient in that energy generated from the incineration sustain subsequent incineration processes? the plant was also surprisingly odor-free. sure, there was the faint smell of trash, but it wasn't bad, i was expecting worse. about the same amount of odor from the recycling plant. of course that may just be because it was a cold day; one a nice hot summer day things might be different. the plant also does certain things like using negative pressure to trap any smells from getting beyond the facility.
cantankerous barry kept asking the strangest questions. he seemed to be fixated on plasma furnaces, and asked about it on more than once occasions (no, this facility does not use plasma to burn the trash). he was also the one crass enough to ask if they ever find any bodies in the trash (the answer is no, although one time they did find a bum who froze to death in a bin).
i returned with jody, mark and kevin. i asked kevin about his long hair, and told him i too had long hair when i was in high school. he told me he only washes it twice a week, and only because it itches, not because he wants to keep it clean. this boy needs a serious fashion makeover! after kevin got dropped him off in kendall square, i got a chance to talk to jody and mark, who seemed like really nice guys. mark said a few things2 that made me ask, "you're not a birdwatcher by any chance, are you?" turns out he was. when i asked him if he was a sibley or peterson man, he replied sibley, and took out his field guide from his bag. hardcore birder!
after i got dropped off at the DPW office, i biked back to my place in the freezing rain. i wasn't too concerned about getting wet myself as i was about trying to keep my camera equipment dry.
on my doorstep was a package from amazon, the two altec lansing iM227 speakers. after i got out of my wet clothes and fixed myself a cup of hot tea, i played with one of the speakers. my first impression is that it's bigger than i expected. i was thinking the size of a tuna can; the diameter is approximately the same, but the height is 1.5x that a regular tuna can. i also thought it came with a case but it came with only the speaker and a length of lanyard. function-wise it's pretty straight-forward, and the instructions are just diagrams. there's a power button with an LED light that glows red or green depending on the battery power level. it takes 3 AAA batteries and supposedly can give 24 hours of playback. given that it's only a single speaker, the sound is pretty good, surprisingly loud, with good fidelity. not bad for $13! what i want to try next is mount the speaker on my bike handlebar.
i had oatmeal for breakfast, a late lunch of canned soup (after coming back from the trash tour), and finally some oven-baked pizza for dinner.
1 "wheelabrator" sounds like some kind of gardening tool.
2 he seemed to perk up when he heard about the bear creek wildlife sanctuary next to the trash facility (on former landfill) and when i mentioned the sparrows that seem to live in the facility, he said they were starlings.