In her encyclopedic book Bottom Ash Observatory, Christien Meindertsma takes the reader on a 160-page expedition through a bucket filled with 25 kilos of bottom ash, showing the astounding richness and value of this material. The contents of this “golden bucket” are the residue of 100 kilos of incinerated household and industrial waste: the “waste of waste.” By sieving, drying, laser-analyzing and separating tens of thousands of pieces by hand, Meindertsma succeeded in extracting numerous materials. She melted down the 12 most valuable materials – including zinc, aluminum, and silver – to pure cylinders, creating a line chard showing the richness of the bottom ash.The process of adding value to waste by separating it is rapidly innovating, and Meinderstma illustrates where this rich urban ore deposit can lead us.
The author commissioned photographer Mathijs Labadie to capture every step of this process in minute detail. As his telescope-style lens zooms in on the bottom ash, the chunks of material assume the appearance of comets and meteorites. The buckets containing the sieved bottom ash take on the guise of planets, while even the cylinders of the valuable materials are planetarium-like in their mystique and grandeur. The precision with which Meindertsma and Labadie record the dissection of the bottom ash harkens back to the eighteenth-century travel narratives depicting newly discovered raw materials with scientific accuracy – complete with tip-ins and fold-out illustration. In 2015, of course, we no longer need to set out on a journey for new materials – our challenge today is to find new uses for local resources. This book demonstrates the infinite versatility of the resource that is bottom ash.