Stuck with muck: World’s northernmost car wash shuts down because cars are too dirty – but, hey, clean rentals

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It seems like a winning business formula: lots of cars get very dirty and therefore need to be washed. But it turns out that’s a fatal flaw for the world’s northernmost car wash due to a very Svalbard specific problem: there’s no place here to dispose of all that muck and it’s too costly to ship it elsewhere.

“The car wash is closed until further notice,” wrote Frank-Johnny Olsen, co-owner of Arctic Autorent, in a June 16 Facebook post announcing the closing of the company’s facility at Sjøområdet that opened in August of 2010. “The reason is it’s full of sand and silt in the storage system. And there is no system on the island to deal with such waste.”

“The option is to gather this up to send it down to the mainland. But that’s not economically practical for the company. If this is a permanent issue we’ll be  refund all prepaid cards that are out there.”

Thomas Nilsen, the company’s office manager, said the facility will still be used to wash the company’s rental vehicles. Olsen, when he opened the facility, said he expected it would be used mostly to clean his rental fleet, but would need to wash 1,000 additional cars a year to break even.

The car wash has eight 10,000-liter contains to store debris that are now full, Olsen told Svalbardposten. The company has applied to store the waste in a landfill at Mine 6 in Adventdalen, but there appears to be little chance of aproval.

“The governor does not consider it environmentally sound to allow the disposal of external masses at the landfill as long as the conditions regarding the stability of the landfill have not been clarified,” wrote Eli Mathisen, a senior counselor for The Governor of Svalbard, in a letter to the company announcing a preliminary finding. A formal decision is expected in August.

The other alternative is bringing the debris to the city’s solid waste plant, although Olsen said that is also economically unfeasible.

“Local government prices are 20 kroner per kilo, depending on the category in which it is,” he told Svalbardposten. “If a car comes in from Adventdalen with ten kilos of mud, it means that it costs us 200 kroner to get rid of it. It’s an impossible calculation.”

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