A Composer’s Diary: Wasteland

 This week it’s time for the world premiere of Wasteland with Norrlandsoperan Symphony Orchestra and Ville Matvejeff! This 20 minute orchestra piece in five movements is the craziest piece of music I have written so far, my own “Rite of Spring”. The rehearsals sounded fantastic and I can’t wait for the premiere on Thursday the 1st of September!

Wasteland is inspired by some very complex issues, and because complex issues can’t be explained with a few words, hence long program note below:

Every year an average Swede will buy 13 kilograms of clothes and throw away about 7.5 kilograms of clothes. About 60 percent of the clothes that are thrown away are whole and clean, but only 3.8 kilograms of textiles per person are annually collected by charity organisations. At least 0.13 kilograms of clothes per person are sold second hand. In Finland the numbers are even higher. As much as 19 kilograms of clothes are bought and 13 kilograms are thrown away annually per person.  For producing one kilogram of cotton you will need 7 000 – 29 000 litres of water and 0.3 –1 litre of oil.  To produce one kilogram of cloth generates about 10-15 kilograms of  greenhouse gases.

In recent years second hand clothes have become increasingly popular in Scandinavia, and bringing your clothes to a collection is considered a way to “have a clean conscience”. But according to a report by the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle only around 20 percent of the collected clothes can be sold in shops in Scandinavia. Around 10 percent are burnt immediately and up to 70 percent are sent further to sorting units, usually situated in the Baltic countries or Germany. At this point a small part is used for upcycling, such as fillings for car seats. But most of the clothes are sent to some of the poorest countries in the world, like for instance Mozambique. The black market of cheap bad quality clothes disrupts these countries’ own textile industry. As a large part of the clothes are of too bad quality to wear anymore, they end up in landfills.

The first movement “Wear” is about how we use different clothes for different occasions, like for instance certain clothes for christmas parties, maybe other clothes for concerts and again something else when we are going out partying with friends. The clothes might be bought second hand and be used several times, but everything at an increasing tempo.

The second movement “Toss” is the journey the clothes make together with their owner to collection containers where they are tossed in, and from where they are collected by a lorry. The third movement “Sort” is a description of collection and sorting halls. The movement is like a slow “zoom out” during which you slowly begin to realise what a large amount of “Christmas- and party clothes” there are intended to be recycled: in Finland annually around 14 million kilograms and in Sweden around 38 million kilograms, an overwhelming amount.

The fourth movement “Burn” is about what happens to at least 80 percent of all textile waste: it is burned with mixed waste. In best case the waste burning can be used for generating new energy, but it is not a sustainable way to use resources.

The last movement “Flow” is about what we call “Greenwashing”, in other words marketing something as sustainable even though it actually isn’t. In an investigating article by Yle a factory plant of the Finnish firm Fortum is viewed in detail. The factory refines salts from environmentally hazardous APC ashes (APC = Air Pollution Control) from incineration waste. Then these salts are rinsed out together with the wastewater of the process, straight into the Baltic Sea, as there is “lack of proof that it would be harmful for the environment”. The regulations which state that ashes from incineration waste should not be used unrefined, due to environmental risks, are circumvented in this way. 

Wasteland is a shout out that recycling can’t be “one option of many”, as it has to be the only viable choice for our resources to be sufficient. The responsibility for recycling shouldn’t lie solely with consumers, but should also be mandatory for producers. With this piece, I want to make people understand that if we can “afford” to consume, we must also be able to afford to take care of the waste we are creating. This must be regulated by law so that the responsibility cannot be shifted to poorer and / or corrupt countries.

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