Nature bites back
Dealing with manmade pollution but also catastrophic accidents, nature, it would appear, has the power to overcome dire conditions. ENVIRONMENT looks at how our world recovers from oil spills, wildfires, industrial waste and nuclear accidents
3 billion tonnes: that's the amount of rubbish produced every year in the EU. This waste takes time to disintegrate and so as the mountains of garbage grow new ways are being sought to deal with our dirt. At the Ikos waste management site in Normandy in the north of France, bacteria are being cultivated and used as a way of accelerating decomposition. Taking the liquid that comes off of household rubbish they fill basins and store the sewer like soup in warm conditions that allows the bacteria present to multiply rapidly. This microbe heavy concoction is then regularly poured on top of the rubbish where the bacteria munch through the waste.
And its not just household waste that bacteria break down. At another part of the Ikos site, land that has been subjected to oil spills or used as industrial wasteland also gets a bacterial cleansing. Here the earth is separated and the polluted elements piled up and covered with plastic sheets. A system of pipes runs under the mounds and sends a constant supply of oxygen through the soil. This is because the bacteria that works on petrol needs oxygen to prosper.
So for each form of waste, a bacterium that can help reduce the time it stays visible and active in our immediate environment. By 2020, the OECD estimates, we could be generating 45% more waste than we did in 1995. Boosting bacteria may be one tool to keep fields green and prevent our world being submerged by rubbish.
When you look closely then nature has weapons to deal with a lot of what mankind throws at it. The site of the 1984 nuclear accident in Chernobyl is attracting a growing number of tourists curious to see if life has returned to the area cordoned off for the past 24 years. Some say that in the absence of man nature has been flourishing but while trees and shrubs have grown through the cracks of the abandoned buildings not everyone is convinced that the site has become what you could call a nature reserve. The area remains highly radioactive in some places levels are 10,000 times higher than the norm.