The Fortress of Waste: Why is it so complicated to get rid of your old junk in Belgium?

Sunday, 03 March 2019 16:42
Arthur Rubinstein

Arthur Rubinstein is an American who has been living in Belgium (Flanders) for over 40 years. He has had many years of experience in editing and copywriting, having worked with the Wall Street Journal Europe and, most recently, with KPMG, the professional services company.

The three most highly guarded locations on earth are: the White House, home to the President of the USA; Fort Knox the building that houses the bullion reserve in the USA and Area 51, a highly classified remote detachment of Edwards Air Force Base within the Nevada Test and Training Range in the USA.
This list, to my mind, is incomplete. There is a facility, here in Belgium, no less – in Kessel-Lo near Leuven, to be precise – that, if not as highly secure, it is just as well protected as the above-mentioned facilities.

Euphemistically referred to as a container park, this fortress in Kessel-Lo is a well-defended space that only lacks the weaponry common to most well-fortified locations.

Arriving at the entrance of the container park, which ironically is located adjacent to the ultimate container park, one of the city’s cemeteries; you’re confronted by a sign that asks you to close your car engine and a brightly-coloured, striped barrier. The guard comes up to your car window and asks you what you have brought to dispose. Rather than taking your word for it, he insists you get out of your car and open the car boot. He carefully scrutinises your detritus, with the slow, deliberate inspection a dentist would conduct, checking your teeth for an abnormality.

After getting his green light, you have to produce your identity card – this keeps illegal immigrants out – and a debit card because the process will cost you at least €7 to get rid of your junk.

Once you’ve passed the preliminaries, the bar is raised and you can enter the park. Once in, you have to sort your waste. There is one container for glass, one for paper, one for wood, one for masonry, one for electric devices, etc. These are examples of the types of items you can pass on for recycling, shredding or any other reformation of material.

While disposing of your goods, the guard, from his strategic position, checks to confirm that you have abided by the rules and put everything in the right container. He also checks that you didn’t spill anything on the floor. Once a guard ordered us to clean some remains of something that had dropped on the floor. Fortunately we were allowed to use the on-site broom.

Relieved of all your waste, it’s time to leave. There are no guards, no hassle. You approach the bar, which rises and you drive out with a feeling of relief. You made it.

This show of manpower and their ability to quietly intimidate is persuasive. The message is clear: don’t mess with the guardians of garbage. It also makes you wonder what is so valuable in those hills of green (shrubs, plants, etc.) waste, mountains of glass and peaks of paper. The guards are formidable, but they should also be commended for the work they do in defending the environment.

By Arthur Rubinstein

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