As the rubbish truck trundles by on its allotted day, waste disposal seems like a straightforward process. But what if you have a nuclear submarine to get rid of? You can’t squeeze that in the black bin. All around the world, there are thousands of large and dangerous items that reach the end of their working lives and must be safely moved and dealt with.
From planes to trains and even stranger objects, you’ll be surprised what happens when retirement hits.
What happens to old aeroplanes?
As always, Google Earth knows the answers. Like hundreds of strange insects taking a rest, this aerial shot of retired aeroplanes shows an aircraft boneyard in Arizona. There are more than 4,000 military aircraft parked here, from B-52s to stealth bombers. The planes sit patiently, awaiting their final fate, just as they do on other boneyards around the world.
Often, the planes are broken up for parts – the valuable engines and electronic systems can be reused on another craft. The aluminium frame is usually crushed, melted and resold – so your next can of Coke could have flown around the world as a Boeing 747.
Where do trains go to die?
Imagine driving down the bypass only to see a train on the inside lane. It’s enough to give you a shock. That’s why old trains, when making their final journey by road, need a police escort. Sometimes, the roads will even need to be closed.
The trains are usually taken to scrapyards for dismantling and recycling. However, some have a more glamourous destination, such as the four repurposed London tube carriages sitting on top of a Victorian warehouse in Shoreditch, London. They offer a cultural space for artists and writers to work. Other tube trains have retired to the more peaceful surroundings of the Isle of Wight, where they gently ferry passengers from the pier to the seaside resort of Shanklin.
There’s no such thing as retirement for many large items, just reinvention. Even old shipping containers have a resale value – they make secure storage options for farmers or builders, and can even be repurposed into modern homes. Transportation of these huge containers is heavy duty, requiring massive carriers and large cranes.
The nuclear option
So far so good, but what do you do with an old nuclear sub or nuclear reactor? Rather scarily, some of them are abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. The Kara Sea in the Arctic Ocean hosts 17,000 naval radioactive waste containers, 16 nuclear reactors and five complete nuclear submarines. Maybe don’t go there for your next scuba diving trip.
Or just explode it
The other alternative for things no longer wanted, like an embarrassing statue, is to blow it up. That’s what happened to the massive statue of Stalin which once presided over Letna Park in Prague. Made from reinforced concrete and weighing 17,000 tonnes, it took an impressive 800 kg of explosives to destroy it.
Luckily, not many of us have a nuclear sub or large statue of Stalin to store of get rid of. But we do tend to share our homes with more normal items that we don’t actually need on a daily basis – your ski gear, that exercise bike you rode all of two times, old clothes and unwanted furniture you haven’t quite got around to selling or taking to the tip. They all take up space.
Finding somewhere else for them to live, even if temporarily, would free up space and make our homes feel more spacious and less cluttered. So before you reach for the dynamite, here is the X, Y and Z of what on earth to do with all that stuff:
Option X – above and below
For smaller items, you can make your loft work for you by laying loft boards and fitting a proper ladder (instead of using that wobbly step ladder that isn’t quite high enough). Do make sure you use solid plastic containers with secure lids to protect items from dust and insulation fibres.
Be sure not to fill them with too much either, if you have to lift them above your head to get them into the loft, you don’t want to run the risk of injury. Label every container too because one thing’s for sure: when you do want to find something, you need to know which box it’s in. Yes, it sounds a bit OCD but you’ll be grateful when the time comes.
If you’ve got a cellar, the same applies: make sure the floor is secure enough to take any extra weight. You might also need to keep things away from walls to avoid damp or mould creeping into your things.
Option Y – the cloud
Imagine a paperless office! It is possible, and it also brings the advantage that your documents are protected from flood and fire and can be accessed from anywhere in the world at any time of day or night. Of course, it will take some time to upload everything and scan or photograph your documents, but your desk will thank you for it.
Option Z – the quick and easy option
Secure offsite storage works just as well for valuable art work as for the old sofa you might reupholster one day. Choose a company that can collect your items for you, help with packing up and provide round-the-clock security and easy access. You won’t have to worry about vermin, dust or the temperature, which is especially reassuring with important documents, sentimental items and valuables.
Dealing with a mountain of personal possessions can be a daunting task, and who can blame us for putting it off when there are so many other things to be doing and enjoying? Mind you, when you think about the logistics involved in sorting out a nuclear submarine, it does make organising the chaos in the back room feel that bit more achievable.