Fun at the Dump

In the not-to-distant future Danish families may go to the dump for vacation. (Image by Bjarke Ingels Group)

Last weekend I went to check out the new dump. I never had much of a problem with the old one, aside from the fact that it exists, but this new renovation is certainly a notable improvement.

As I drove past the cast-in-place concrete sign, down the new black asphalt drive towards the facility I could see that this was no longer just an amorphous ‘area’ to chuck garbage. This was a destination. A place where things happened. A place with a chartreuse theme color.

At first look, the site work is impressive in its scope as well as its execution. There is a traffic roundabout funneling cars towards the exit, which has a small colourful grove of trees and shrubs in its centre. The well-contained grassed areas are green and mowed, and give the entry the impression of a sterile corporate headquarters or a research lab. The huge white prismatic cube of a building that sits to the left of the entry goes strangely unnoticed, possibly for its lack of windows but more probably for the fact that it doesn’t have a visible public entry. This is the recycling facility. There are few other scattered buildings around, including a metal salvage facility and a commercial indoor composting operation. [see comments below] For the public depot, drivers are directed to a queue, where you wait for an attendant to analyze your garbage contents and direct you to a stall. The whole system organization seems to flow well. Pickup trucks back up in sync into bays that open on to chartreuse green containers several meters below the docking platform, clearly labeled for the different types of refuse.

People seemed so happy there, standing on the beds of their pickup trucks, joyously flinging waste into the containers. It struck me that this was the best part of going to the new dump: the throwing. Everyone was doing it, it was so much fun. Throwing big heavy breakable things into a big metal container and watching them smash and making a loud noise. Robin Hood Bay dump is now like a stage for what could be a piece of bizarre performance art, all it needs is “Tales from the Vienna Woods” playing in the background as unwanted toasters spin through the air towards their dramatic end. It’s an attainable dream.

Robin Hood Bay facility has, sort of accidentally, made throwing out garbage and recycling things fun.

Danish architect Bjarke Ingels has a similar idea when it comes to managing our trash. He was here in Newfoundland this past June as a keynote speaker for the Canadian Institute of Planners conference. He was an engaging speaker, and he seemed really excited to share his ideas. He talked about his idea of ‘hedonistic sustainability’—the idea that if recycling was not thought of as a chore or a duty, but more so as a fun thing, then people were far more likely to actually do it.

One project he presented was their proposed revitalisation of a waste-to-energy plant in Denmark. He suggested the presence of people would help improve the image of the place, and that it should be re-branded as a destination. So he designed a man-made ski slope on top of the facility, using the 31,000 square meters of vacant roof space. Instead of using snow, which would be unsustainable, they’d use a recycled synthetic granular material. An elevator that travels up alongside the smokestack on the interior of the structure takes you to the top of the slopes and an observation platform. The slopes will host a variety of outdoor sport activities, and the entire thing is wrapped in a wall of planter-bricks, creating a porous green facade. When one ton of carbon dioxide has been released, the smoke stack will puff out a huge 30 meter wide smoke ring, reminding us of the harmful impact of our waste. The proposal won the international competition and will be built, with an estimated completion date sometime in 2016.

Our own waste management solutions may not be as fun as BIG’s proposal, but it does prove Ingels’ point that responsible waste disposal can be fun in the right architectural setting. And when it is fun, people will want to do it. One can only hope in another 40 years when Robin Hood Bay is due for another update, we might actually be ready to do something this cool.


  1. Tanya · May 7, 2012

    It was the first place I visited when I vacationed and moved to St. John’s from Alberta. I was expecting the usual dump atmosphere and ambiance – a dirt road littered with fallen debris, heaps upon heaps of filthy and rotten trash and a smell that would linger on your clothes for days; boy, was I pleasantly surprised. I have never in my life seen such a sight as the Robin Hood Bay Landfill (and such a nice sign it was!). Instead of the familiar dump odor taking your breath away, it was a pleasant experience from the paved (and marked) roadway to the amazing boys they have working there. To this day, I love going to the landfill as part of my weekly routine – this is coming from the girl who came from wearing high heels everyday to buying a pair of workboots to wear to the dump :)

  2. Ken O'Brien · May 7, 2012

    Good article, Taryn. Thanks for mentioning one of our keynote speakers from the national planning conference here this past summer.

  3. pippipowpow · May 7, 2012

    Ever been skiing in Ontario ? Check out Mt St. Louis Moonstone – because it is built on a dump! (sort of) all 700 vertical on one of their 2 hills is made from a massive landfill back in the late 80’s early 90’s.

  4. Shelley Pardy · May 7, 2012

    Taryn I was very pleased to read this article the day it was published. I think the new Robin Hood Bay Waste Management Facility (not the ‘d’ word) is great and love that part of my job is letting people know about it. I also give tours of the facility and get a huge kick out of peoples enjoyment of the tour and reactions when they learn about the environmental improvements made there.
    Soon after reading the article I called The Scope office to let you know of one error in the piece. I was told the online version would be edited or noted but I see today that it hasn’t been.
    In the middle of the third paragraph you listed that one of the facilities is ‘a commercial indoor composting operation’ – this facility does not currently exist at RHB. What is there is space (a hole where part of the hillside was blasted out) for a proposed future compost facility. It has not yet been determined when a compost facility will be put there and neither has the type of facility (ie: indoor, or otherwise) been chosen.
    Thanks again for writing this article, I really did enjoy it and echo some of your sentiments (give me a ski hill please!), I just want to make sure The Scope readers are aware that there is not yet a composting facility at Robin Hood Bay.

  5. Elling Lien · May 7, 2012

    Sorry the correction wasn’t made earlier, Shelley. Thanks for letting us know.

  6. Shelley · May 7, 2012

    No problem Elling, thanks for correcting it. Also please pass on my comments to Taryn, I enjoy her column and was delighted to see the article about Robin Hood Bay.

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