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As buildings go up, the waste must go down

Envac waste inlets

Let’s be clear: we’ll never see the back of the bin. And why should we? It has provided the backbone of waste collection for centuries. But in a rapidly developing world, there are now many cases where the bin is no longer the best option. In fact, particularly in densely populated environments, the bin is neither practical nor sustainable.

Rapid urbanisation, combined with decreasing land mass available for development, is pushing buildings upwards. After all, if you cannot develop outwards the only way is up, which enables local authorities – and the developers under their charge – to maximise a building’s footprint. While you can address a growing population by building upwards, it does not address the waste produced by that growing population.

Generally speaking, the bigger the development, the greater the number of bins a local authority provides. The problem is that many cities in the UK are currently building at densities of 250 homes per hectare. Some parts of London are even developing 400 homes per hectare. At this level you have to ask ‘where are all the bins going to go?’

In cases where you have 8,500 Eurobins on a development at all times, the council will require at least 12 refuse collection vehicles (RCVs) working to full capacity every day to empty them. That is before you factor-in the time and cost associated with physically moving them from where they are stored to the RCV, which will only reduce the efficiency of the 12 vehicles.

In the 21st century, surely there is an argument for fewer bins, not more? Blindly continuing to roll out bins across developments that cannot physically house them is irresponsible and shortsighted. Automated waste collection systems provide an immediate solution to the problem. Waste is placed in inlets located throughout a development or site and stored in an underground pipe network. When full, or at a pre-programmed time, the waste is transported by vacuum technology, at speeds of up to 70kph and across distances as long as 2km, to the central waste collection station.

Rather than many lorries making multiple manual collections each day, an RCV has to make only one journey to the collection station to pick up the container. At every stage of the process, from when the user deposits the waste, everything is stored, moved and managed underground. Not only does waste and the receptacles used to store it remain unseen, but the process remains uninterrupted, whatever the weather.

For example, in the US, when Hurricane Sandy hit the New Jersey coastline, destroying entire streets, Envac’s automated underground waste collection system remained operational. In fact the system, which was designed-in to Roosevelt Island in Manhattan in 1971, was one of the only public services to remain operational throughout the entire disaster. Waste collection vehicles were too busy removing storm-related rubbish such as furniture, abandoned cars and rubble from the streets.

But the current economic climate and an unwillingness to invest in long-term sustainable technologies represents the technology’s biggest challenge in the UK. What makes the UK-wide adoption of Envac even more challenging is that the system is an infrastructural component, just like any other utility. As part of a building’s fabric, the system needs the same long-term strategic approach as gas, electricity and water. It needs to be considered at the outset of the planning process.

Pre-recession, the UK’s resistance to new waste management approaches was arguably one of the key factors that prevented automated vacuum waste technology from becoming more commonplace. Now we find ourselves in the situation where the demand for underground automated vacuum waste technology is high but the levels of finance available to take it forward are low.

Yes, the capital expenditure required to invest in Envac is high, but payback is achieved from a much lower operational cost when compared with traditional waste collection. Furthermore, Envac now provides operation and maintenance agreements that reduce, if not entirely remove, major capital outlays. And let’s not forget how much each RCV costs to buy.

What is certain is that, if we are to continue as we are with little regard for the future and a misplaced reliance on bins, then the end result will be streets lined with rows upon rows of overfull containers and waste collection that is clunky, manually intensive and dangerous.

Dave Buckley is UK sales manager at Envac UK


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