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Waste management in the modern world

NORTH OF THE THAMES, between Barking and Dagenham, a new town the size of Windsor is springing into life. When Barking Riverside is complete, it will bring a new river walkway, a linear park, shops, offices, schools, an over­ground railway station and more than 10,000 new homes to the east of London.

Led by a joint venture compris­ing housing provider London & Quadrant (L&Q) and the Greater London Authority, the develop­ment is taking shape on the brownfield site of the former Barking power station.

From the first homes to be com­pleted and computer-generated images, we can see that Barking Riverside will have brick town­houses and blocks of flats in radial street patterns, favouring pedestrians and bikes over vehicles. This is the emerging architecture of the ‘smart city’.

Charging points for electric vehicles will feature in the street-scene along with a new element: high-tech, on-street waste collec­tion units, or inlets, feeding waste into a network of buried pipes.

The waste system in the first phase of the development went live in April. When Barking River­side is finished it will have almost 500 inlets provided by Envac, replacing 20,000 traditional bins and the need for a fleet of refuse collection vehicles (RCVs). It is set to be Europe’s largest integrated automated waste system.

So how does it work? The inlets at Barking are accessed by resi­dents’ swipe cards. They are designed to cater for dry recyclates and mixed residual waste. It will be possible to add equipment to pro­cess food waste at a later stage, should this be needed.

The materials are sucked by air pressure through a network of buried pipes for distances of up to 2km, at speeds of up to 70kmph, converging at a central collection station. Following compaction, waste is placed in containers and moved on to an appropriate pro­cessing facility.

The system is run from the col­lection station. For an installation as large as Barking Riverside there is an on-site team for servicing, but day-to-day running does not require a permanent on-site pres­ence in the control room. A sec­ond collection station will be required in the next phase of the development.

The advantages of such an approach to waste collection are obvious. In the first place, it does not require RCVs, making for safer, less cluttered streets, and there are no smelly, vermin-attracting bins in which waste hangs around.

There is also an up to 90% reduction in the carbon emissions associated with conventional refuse disposal and an up to 100% increase in the local recycling rate.

Envac’s system occupies only 15% of the footprint of traditional waste and recycling collection, meaning the space that would have been taken up by bin stores and paladins can be used for com­mercial purposes or for more housing units, helping to offset the cost of installation.

On an aesthetic level, the sys­tem adds value to the streetscene. The environments that it is helping to create, for example at Bark­ingside, look modern and clean. They have less space allocated to vehicles and more areas of grass and trees. The roads around schools are safer because there are fewer RCVs.

Some of these factors may not be as tangible as others but, in totality, they make for nicer environments for people to live in.

The half-century of experience that Envac has gained in this tech­nology is invaluable both in install­ing and running systems. The business began in the 1960s as an engineering company offering a vacuum technology to remove dust from Sollefteå Hospital in Sweden.

If it works for dust, why not gen­eral hospital waste, the inventors thought? And then why not for a whole housing estate? A scheme was installed in the Sundbyberg district of Stockholm, which is still in use today. Envac’s installations are built to have a service life of up to 60 years .

Computer-guided, vacuum-operated waste systems, still unusual in the UK, are the preferred option for new developments in Stock­holm, where there are more than 30 large systems, and other Scan­dinavian cities. They are also integral to the ‘super cities’ of Malaysia, Singapore, Barcelona and Seoul, and are increasingly popular in Japan.

Retrofitted Envac units are common in Barcelona. The tech­nology highlights an interesting but often overlooked fact: that our street patterns have been designed and adapted around the needs of waste disposal as much as human access. But this para­digm is about to change.

Where they are designed-in, integrated systems are suited to new-build developments consist­ing of as few as 300 or as many 10,000 units and above.

dave buckley

dave buckley

“Isn’t it strange that developments and homes are becoming more and more high-tech but we are still designing them around Victorian waste infrastructure?”

Dave Buckley

They can be added to existing buildings and offer similar environmental advantages, and inlets can be specified for waste streams as required – some Scandinavian installations are adapted for seven kinds of waste. What all systems have in common is that they remove waste away from people quickly and efficiently, which is desirable for health as well as aesthetic reasons.

Envac’s first large-scale UK application was at Wembley Park in west London, close to the new Wembley stadium: a 9,000-home, mixed-use scheme that went live in 2008. It is being built by Quin­tain Estates and Developments, and is close to completion.

Here three waste factions are collected – mixed dry recyclables, residual waste including nappies and food waste. A sizeable amount of waste also comes from commercial premises.

The Wembley Park contract was signed with a private devel­oper that is delivering housing for rent and sale. Barking Riverside was an agreement made with Barking Riverside Ltd, a joint venture between the Greater London Authority and L&Q, to deliver a mixture of social, market and affordable housing. Both of these projects were developer-led.

Two large schemes that Envac has in the pipeline are local authority-led. Envac systems have a lot offer to councils in terms of economies of scale, meeting green obligations and making the best use of space-restricted inner-city brownfield sites, where there are often access issues for vehicles.

Envac realises that, whoever it is working with, be it a local authority, an architect or a devel­oper, each will bring a different set of expectations to the table. The conversation varies, depending who we are talking to.

Councils tend to be interested in reducing vehicle movements and what they can save from not needing RCVs; a 5,000-home development could need two or three very expensive vehicles.

Developers want to know how they can allocate the space they are gaining for other purposes or how the extra space for residents can be used in home designs.

The earlier we are involved in delivering a project, the better. An integrated waste scheme could, for example, be included as part of a Section 106 agreement made with a developer during the plan­ning process or as a planning con­dition.

It is quite easy to tell at an early stage if this form of waste collec­tion is going to work and if the numbers will add up. Detailed plans and drawings may not be needed until after master plan­ning.

Envac can be involved in differ­ent ways. There are options around funding; we can take ownership of the system and charge connection fees or we can simply install it, offering an operations and maintenance (O&M) contract.

By installing the system as part of an O&M contract, Envac agrees to manage the entire system for a known and index-linked cost per unit, which means the client can run the system efficiently based on the number of people living within the development at any given time.

This approach means that the developer or commissioning body has full visibility of the exact cost of the system now and in the future. Under such a deal, Envac also agrees to cover the cost of all maintenance and reinvestment in the plant so that it is running the most up to date system.

All this may be a relatively new concept for the UK but it is long overdue. Isn’t it strange that our developments and homes are becoming more and more high-tech but we are still designing them around Victorian waste infrastructure?

Cost has been the main factor holding back vacuum-based waste systems, but new technology and materials along with comput­er-aided design have driven that down significantly. A new set of green imperatives, including the need to make developments more carbon friendly, have made a change of approach to waste highly desirable, if not essential.

In the south of England, Envac is currently talking to the partners of two major developments in the capital, both on a significant scale. But the potential is not just for new-build. Wouldn’t it be great if we could banish bin lorries from our ancient cities and market towns to make more room for people?

Automated vacuum waste col­lection systems are certain to grow in popularity in this country during the next few years. At the moment, we are still in the con­sciousness-raising stage. The more people who know how the technology works and the many benefits that it can offer, the better.

Dave Buckley is managing director at Envac UK

About Envac

Based in Stockholm and part of the worldwide Stena group, Envac is the world’s largest provider of automated, vacuum-based waste collection systems. It has 35 offices in 22 countries across the globe, supplying solutions to housing schemes, cities, hospitals and airports.

In Norway, the company is set to provide the world’s largest single automated waste collection system to Bergen, removing the need for waste lorries from the city’s narrow medieval streets.

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