Dumpster Diving Detectives: Inspecting Swiss Town's Trash To Nab Eco-Cheats

Determined to make their new pay-as-you-go garbage system work, municipal authorities in Yverdon are hot on the trail of trash cheaters. But before they can issue fines, the Swiss town must identify the violators – which means rifling through the refuse

Welcome to Yverdon...What's in that dumpster? (GoogleStreetView)
Welcome to Yverdon...What's in that dumpster? (GoogleStreetView)
Mathieu Signorell

YVERDON - "There, a black bag. Quick!" Pascal Breux hurriedly presses the big red button next to him. Behind the wheel of his garbage truck, this municipal worker for the village of Yverdon in western Switzerland scans the back of his vehicle with a small camera. "We must only collect white bags, the ones that are taxed by the city," he says.

Two truck "servants' -- they don't like to be called "garbage men" -- then hop on the vehicle, and start fishing for bags that shouldn't be there. Their next mission will be to sort through the bags and hopefully discover the identity of the cheating polluters in this quaint spa town of 27,000.

Vaud, the canton where Yverdon is located, is hardly an environmental hotbed. But over the past year, the town has made an effort to be less wasteful when it comes to garbage, enforcing a pay-as-you-go system to encourage recycling and a reduction in overall waste. Residents are now only allowed to leave their trash in special white bags sold by the city. Anyone who dares dump their garbage in another kind of bag risks a hefty fine – up to several hundred euros. To show they mean business, Yverdon town authorities have already tracked down some 250 trash cheaters.

This morning's catch was a good one: Out of only three containers, the municipal workers have collected a dozen illicit bags. The bags are then put in a tiny rickety truck headed for the Road Maintenance headquarters, where Olivier de Blaireville, head of municipal waste disposal authority, proceeds to disembowel them with a knife. The garbage is spread, ready for inspection.

Searching for clues

Before he sends the bags to the incinerator, De Blaireville and his team sort their contents out, looking for the slightest clue as to who the lawbreaker might be: addresses on envelopes, bank statements or photocopies of official document usually do the trick.

Each garbage bag tells bits and pieces about its former owner. The first suspect likes milk, drinks coke and beer cans by the dozen, and had to throw away one strawberry yogurt that had spent too long in the fridge. The bag also contains a letter and bank statement – but they've been torn to bits. Unfortunately in this case, the investigation won't lead anywhere.

The next bag belongs to a student from Yverdon's High School of Engineering and Management (HEIG) who has a passion for the school's music festival. At any rate, that's what a printed out e-mail featuring multiple e-mail address suggests. "But it's not hard evidence," says Olivier de Blaireville.

Then comes the bag of a man – or at least of someone who uses men's deodorant - who does not like tap water, judging by the countless glass and plastic bottles he threw away. The newspaper he reads won't be any help, considering it's distributed everywhere.

The next crook likes vodka and left his trash can for too long on his balcony: Everything is moldy apart from the alcohol bottle. His neighbor is a smoker and loves oranges and zucchini. Although he does not sort his waste, he's very meticulous. He took the trouble to pack his peelings in a small plastic bag before cheating by putting it in the black bag. Another wild goose chase: there was no address on the only envelope he threw away.

As for this morning's other smugglers, there is a wine drinker, an aficionado of coffee capsules, a gardener who needed to get rid of potting soil and someone with a sweet tooth. "It disgusts me," says De Blaireville. "Not the smell, but the fact that people don't give a damn about waste sorting."

But hang on, what's that in the middle of all the trash? A magazine! Jackpot: the address is clearly visible. "Our goal is not to make money out of the fines. We just want things to be fair for those who play by the rules," De Blaireville says.

"But there will always be fraudsters," says Marc-André Burkhard, a local politician from the radical-liberal party. Burkhard, who heads Yverdon's Environmental Development department, just happened to walk by a garbage truck. "Some of them are adamantly opposed to bag taxation. They will cheat just to be provocative. "

Back to the office of road maintenance, where the database shows no trace of a prior violation by the magazine-reading desperado. This time, he will be let off with a warning.

Read more from Le Temps in French

Photo - GoogleStreetView

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!