In June, Bergen won the National Energy Globe Award 2017 for its decision to install the Envac collection system within its historical city centre.
This was positive for a number of reasons. It reaffirmed how automated waste collection is a sustainable alternative to traditional, manual methods of collection. It also confirmed the fact that the technology is not only feasible for new urban developments, but also for centuries-old and culturally sensitive environments.
More importantly, it highlighted the socio-economic benefits that can be created if we re-evaluate the way in which we approach waste collection in the 21st century.
The traditional approach to waste collection is the bigger the development and the more separate waste streams to collect, the more bins are required. But in many developed cities, or in protected areas such as Bergen, simply adding more containers to a fleet that may already be bursting at the seams is not an option.
After all, physical space dictates and limits how many bins can occupy the streets.
This was certainly the case in Bergen, where old, narrow and protected roads were hindering the local authority’s attempts to add additional waste streams to its collection. The amount of waste was increasing as well as vehicle movements, and the associated carbon emissions, required to collect the waste.
Aside from the logistical aspects of waste collection, the council also wanted to remove often overfull bins and the accompanying smells from the streetscene to make it a more pleasant public space.
Working with BIR Nett, the company that managed the project’s delivery, Envac overcame the challenges of working within the context of an outdated infrastructure, and where space was limited. It also collaborated with the Excavation Club, a team of external consultants whose role is to plan and provide access to the trenches required for laying Bergen’s underground infrastructure, including Envac’s pipe network.
Representatives from the Directorate for Cultural Heritage needed to be present in the event that any significant artefacts were uncovered. Digging close to buildings dating back to the 1700s also brought into question the ability of the buildings’ foundations to withstand rigorous excavation.
During all periods of excavation there had to be permanent access roads for fire trucks, which meant that only 15m of trench could be exposed at any given time.
In 2007 the first Envac pipes were laid and, by 2015, the waste collection station had been built. Envac is now operational in many areas of the city centre, transporting waste through an underground network of pipes at speeds up to 70kph using airflow alone.
The remaining areas are currently being connected to the system on a street-by-street basis. Waste fractions currently include residual and paper and plastic, and there are plans to collect food waste in the future.
On completion, the Envac system, which will have cost more than e40m (£35.7m), will be responsible for handling the waste of approximately 20,000 people as well as numerous commercial buildings.
By relocating waste collection underground, Bergen council has added significant social value to the area.
- It has removed waste collection lorries, which previously made multiple daily collections and placed considerable strain on historical roads. In doing so it has reduced the risk of waste-related traffic accidents and cut carbon emissions by 90%.
- The system removed unsightly overfull bins, which has lessened the presence of vermin and animals that would typically feed off the rubbish.
- It has cut the risk of waste-related fires, a significant issue for a city with many old wooden buildings.
- The system has seamlessly integrated into the urban scene and has become a tourist attraction.
The Bergen project demonstrates how a small city with a valuable historic centre can limit the strain posed by waste collection and street cleaning vehicles, leading to a safer, more environmentally friendly and attractive centre in the process. It also shows how successfully an automated waste collection system can be installed in tandem with a new district heating system without impairing the city’s functions.
Jonas Törnblom is senior vice-president of marketing and communication for Envac