The more Leonia expels goods, the more it accumulates them; the scales of its past are soldered into a cuirass thatcannot be removed. As the city is renewed each day, it preserves all of itself in its only definitive form: yesterday's sweepings piled up on the sweepings of the day before yesterday and of all its days and years and decades.
–Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
The tale of Leonia from Calvino's Invisible Cities encapsulates nicely the opinion of the Cosmic era for the Petroleum Era. Driven by conspicuous consumption and relentless fads, trends, and the chase for the newest bestest shiniest gadget, the Petroleum Era and its foolish denizens buried themselves in debt and trash, and in the end, when it all fell it cast the world into darkness. It left the environment in ruins, and turned what had been a blue and pure world into a midden of radioactive ash, littered with trash, and corpses.
Africa and the Scavenging Industry
The Scavenging industry was largely born in Africa. For decades, there were people who made their livings by exploring the ruins of the Petroleum Era. There are thousands of square miles of abandoned city ruins, and rust consumed factories to explore. These freelance scavengers broke open safes and cabinets to find antique weapons, precious metals and jewelry and other things that retained value through the demise of the previous iteration of civilization. This tradition was wide scale practiced around the world, and was approached in almost a scholarly fashion in North America and Europe, and parts of the Pacific Rim. In other parts of the world it was done in a more subsistence level.
Eventually the demand for raw materials pushed society to find more ways to find what it needed. Hard rock mining, and other avenues that were common in the Petroleum Era weren't as viable in the Cosmic Era. The sort of ecological damage that such practices engendered were very unpopular on a social level, and while metal exploration was advancing in space, the vast majority of those materials were being consumed by habitat and space station builders. There remained two large sources of materials that had yet to be majorly exploited.
Landfills and the abandoned cities of the Petroleum Era.
The Corpses of the Past
The Cities of the Petroleum Era were massive, sprawling organisms. They consumed massive amounts of every resource conceivable and boasted equally massive populations. As the second dark age descended, many of these cities were abandoned. There remained some urban gangs, who later devolved socially into Neo-Primitive 'tribes' who wound remain as sad remnants of humanity. These tribes on rare occasion developed intriguing ethnic art, but most were violent in the extreme and were more known for sadism, murder, cannibalism, and serial rape. It was no wonder that many of the cities were completely abandoned to these savages.
Most urban scavengers mixed stealth, self defense, and knowledge of archaic technology to find the lost treasures in the ruined cities. The good ones became rich, the great ones became celebrities, and the not so good ones became lunch.
The Birth of the Reclamation Industry
Eventually resource exploration realized the treasure troves they had. Where previous generations of scavengers were only looking for precious metals and relics, the new scavengers were looking at the value of the ruins of cities and the vast and plentiful landfills and dumps. These locations were rich in iron, aluminum, and other basic metal, hard plastic, and recyclable materials. The challenge was going to be exploiting these resource reserves.
Real World Landfill Mining (wiki link)
The Mobile Refinery
The Mobile Refinery was a massive vehicle manufactured by the SAUR and later copied by the EA and AtFed. The Mobile refinery moved through ruined cities and functioned as a mobile command center and refinery. Powered by a large and heavy fusion engine, the machine had four large electric burners, with variable settings. This allowed for the machine to take in large amounts of bulk materials, burn off the slag and combustibles, and then separate out iron and aluminum and extrude them is rough poured ingots.
In some particularly rich areas, the mobile refinery could be torn down and rebuilt as a permanent facility. The power plant would be used to power lighting and have power amps added to it to support a larger number of crucibles. These fixed refineries would be used to tear down and reclaim the corpses of skyscrapers, and other massive fallen buildings. They were also instrumental in the reclamation of tons upon tons of rail yards, abandoned vehicles, ships, and other detritus from a past era, slowly but surely removing its shadow, and its ecological stain.
Eventually heavier support equipment was used in conjunction with these rolling refineries, starting with powered hardsuits, industrial mecha, and heavy vehicles. The cities of the past were ground down, turned into biofriendly ash and eco-green sand and dust. A few structures were saved, restored as monuments, or relocated. A few cities were spared this treatment, as either they were deemed to hostile/expensive to reclaim or had a value beyond their cash per ton.
Mobile refineries are still in use in the current day. There remain massive pockets of discarded resources and abandoned cities to reclaim across North America, Central and SE Russia/Soviet territory, Africa and China. The refineries are also used in limited hard rock mining that is still going on in a few select locations, but most virgin mining operations have since moved to space and colonial territories like Mars.
A Ripper is any salvage/mining vehicle built to tear open the ground and 'eat' it. The Petroleum Era saw the creation of landfills, some of which grew to be truly massive. Some facilities at the peak of their operation saw an influx of Petroleum Era debris of 10,000 tons a day. A few super facilities, especially in the massively developed American east coast, China, and booming Nigeria claimed upwards to 20,000 tons a day. These landfills became gargantuan and were hundreds of feet thick and measured themselves in miles. The first generations of scavengers who explored the facilities during the Second Dark age never penetrated deeper than a few feet into the fill.
Ripper type vehicles were the first to make headway into claiming the wealth that had been so callously discarded by previous generations. The vehicles, starting with basic electric and hybrid electric and then advancing to arc-powered and quantum battery electric, strip mined the old landfills. They were assisted by hardsuits, and later industrial light mecha. The footing was questionable, and the old landfills contained their own hazards. Many early scavengers operating with limited tools, and hand picking were left horribly sick or died from chemical contamination, gas exposure, or contracted serious diseases like tetanus from injuries received while working a fill.
Exploiting a landfill is a time consuming process. A facility is built near the fill, where valuable materials are sorted out, and metals are smelted, or packaged to be shipped to a nearby facility. It isn't uncommon for a mobile refinery to be located at a large landfill, and the great heaps often have either multiple mobile units, or have a unit or two that have been deployed into permanent structures. The mix of labor mecha, powered hardsuits and dedicated ripper type and hauler vehicles allow for these fills to be excavated, processed and the land returned to nature in a fraction of the time it took to fill. The Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island is slated to be completely cleaned out in less than 24 years, removing one of the most prominent features and highest point of the island.
Sifters, Shakers, Trummels, and Harvesters
A common technique for handling debris recovered from a landfill was to spread it out after its was excavated from the ground. Once dumped out, manual pickers (typically in hardsuits) would be able to visually inspect the debris and remove things from it to make the job easier on the machinery. Construction waste like busted concrete could be taken to a specific area, where the iron rebar in it could be busted out by men in hardsuits with impact hammers. Obviously valuable materials like discarded automobiles and other large metal appliances could be directly hauled to a refinery for shredding and smelting. The remaining carpet of debris would be eaten by the 'Harvesters', large machines designed to take in fine grade (hand sized and smaller) material and sort it out, producing two products: graded material and compacted slag. The graded material, typically high grade plastic and metal were dumped into hoppers where it could be removed and taken to either a refinery or plastic collection center. The slag is the remaining mixture of low grade plastic, paper waste, wood and pulp debris and the 'everything else' that can be found in a landfill. This material was typically bonded with pulverized concrete and other hard materials, pressed and baked into heavy bricks which were either used in civilian engineering products or to shore up the valley often created after elimination of a landfill.
The waste reclammation business isn't glamorous or exciting, its dangerous and the pay isn't good. It does provide a background for rough and tumble characters to come from in a setting that is rife with gilded cages, flying cruise ships and space travel. There are still a large number of men and women who make their livings by tearing apart the mountains of trash that are being generated today. Besides the obvious jobs of working in a landfill hardsuit, driving a heavy vehicle, or even piloting a scavenger industrial mech, there are the people who operate the refineries, and run the business side of it. These are the people who have provided a large push of the green note in the Cosmic Era. Everyday they see the stunning amount of waste generated by a society that went to war over (in the eyes of the Cosmic era) the ability to produce the largest amount of trash possible.
Author's Note/Captain Planet rant
Doing research for this article, I was shocked and horrified by the numbers I found. Originally this was nothing more than an article to explain the role of mining vehicles often found in RTS games specifically Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2. Rather than sucking up 'ore' and 'gemstones' these vehicles in the Cosmic Era are heavy recycling vehicles and the ore they are sucking up is trash, and the ruins of buildings (packed full of metal rebar, copper and other metal wiring, and all of the other metal remains small enough that no one will bother to recycle them today. America generates over 250,000,000 TONS of waste a year, Chine, 220,000,000 TONS, India, 100,000,000 TONS! This isn't bringing into consideration the trash piled up by Europe, Africa, South America, and the rest of the world not mentioned. With the projected growth of the global population for the Petroleum Era, these numbers will go up, potentially even doubling before the onset of the Resource Wars.
Waste Management Companies are big business, with trash being the new mining industry: Heavy vehicles, likely organized labor, and probably plenty of opportunity for organized crime to be involved as well. There are also 'landfills' that are not specifically garbage dumps. There are the abandoned cities, old military bases and installations and other places that are listed for being scrapped and salvaged. Some of these are very valuable, often containing valuable technology left over from the Petroleum era, such as weapons, and other ideas that might have failed then, but could become very possible with the application of hypertech or arcanotech.
The abject conditions experienced in 'Trash Cities' and among populations of Urban Primitives are conducive to creating parapsychics. Like the Broken Ground in Seng Chiu places like Manshiat Nasser, Bordo Poniente, and other garbage cities, children born in the shadows of trash mountains have a greater chance of tapping into the conduit of cosmic agony that fuels parapsychic abilities. Seldom subtle, these gifted youths demonstrate common exceptional strength, durability, and are more likely to evince matter shifting abilities, or the telekinetic ability to animate objects. There have been accounts of junkyard dinosaurs, rusted metal demons, glass bodied angels and stranger things being animated and controlled by youths of said areas. This makes scavenging these mineral rich areas all the more dangerous.
Better hire some mercenaries.