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Why waste must go underground

When Hurricane Sandy hit the New Jersey coastline in the US during October 2012, destroying homes and entire streets, Envac’s waste collection process remained operational.

The vacuum waste system continued its automated collection cycles, using airflow to transport waste from the 33 inlets throughout Roosevelt Island to a central waste collection station. Meanwhile refuse collection vehicles (RCVs) were used to remove storm-related rubbish such as furniture and cars from the streets.

Designed in 1971, the Manhattan system currently handles eight tonnes of waste from almost 14,000 residents on a daily basis.

Having been in operation for more than 40 years, the system had already experienced bouts of severe weather. In 2010 it was the only New York sanitation district to have uninterrupted collections. RCVs had to be diverted to plough snow. In areas not connected to the system, rubbish lined the streets for almost three weeks.

From a design, sustainability and daily operational perspective, a vacuum waste system can cut carbon emissions through reducing the number of heavy RCVs on the roads. It can handle in minutes what multiple RCVs take all day to do.

Envac eliminates unsightly bins and odours that make waste attractive to pests. But Envac also has a unique ability to deal with adverse weather conditions, which is becoming an essential part of future-proofing our cities.

Just like the words retrofitting and sustainability - which have become an essential part of the built environment’s language - future-proofing has become a term that resonates with a number of industries and sectors. After all, if the infrastructure, skills and services required for the future are not in place well in advance then a building, development or area may become unsustainable.

But what do we mean by future-proofing? To date, the term has been aligned with sustainability and fuelled by the drive to meet carbon reduction targets and ensure the buildings and services of today meet the environmental requirements of tomorrow.

In 2008, the US Green Building Council awarded The Octagon, one of the Roosevelt Island buildings that connects to the Envac system, LEED-Silver Certification for excellence in sustainable design and environmentally conscious construction.

Future-proofing a project or a development is an essential component in the planning process. It must also take into account the practical issue of ensuring continuity of service when disasters, natural or otherwise, affect a community.

And this is only half the problem. Climate change is a growing concern yet issues such as increasing urban density and retaining the UK and Europe’s globally competitive position must also be taken into consideration.

Modern lifestyles and increased consumerism are placing more and more pressure on cities on a daily basis. Processes and systems have improved, the old has been replaced with the new and we continue to build on what we have learnt. The question now is how do we best plan and manage cities so that they are able to deal with this change?

But even in some of the world’s most modern cities, poorly managed waste, overflowing litter bins and heavily polluting old RCVs vehicles are a reality. While all other urban utilities have gone underground, waste is often left to pile up on pavements until it is manually collected and thrown into collection vehicles - which is essentially how it has been done for hundreds of years.

Waste collection, one of the most important elements of urban functionality, appears to have escaped the evolutionary process.

But competitive cities must become cleaner, more attractive and better at playing their role in creating and maintaining a sustainable legacy. Waste collection must become a higher priority in urban design and management. It cannot continue to be an afterthought.

From ensuring that waste collection can be maintained in the event of severe weather, to the day-to-day practicalities that automated waste collection addresses, there is a place for technology such as Envac in retaining, if not increasing, the competitiveness of a city.

An increase in the frequency of natural disasters around the world is likely. An increase in consumerism is a certainty. Both elements need to be taken into account at the planning stages of development.

The challenge now is striking the balance between what is achievable, what is affordable and what we simply cannot afford to be without.

Jonas Törnblom, senior vice-president of corporate marketing and public affairs, Envac

A history in vacuum

Envac inlets

Envac invented automated vacuum waste technology, designing and installing a system at the Sollefteå Hospital in northern Sweden in 1961.

More than 50 years have since passed and, in that time, the business has grown across 20 countries and there are currently more than 700 installations around the globe.

Envac entered the UK market in 2008, when it was designed into Quintain Estates and Development’s 85-acre Wembley City development.

Wembley City is a sustainable development that provides an example of how waste has been considered at the initial planning stages. Envac has reduced RCV movements and the associated carbon emissions by 90% while increasing Brent Council’s recycling rate by 50%.

Collection cycles each last 10 minutes. On the development’s completion, Envac will remove more than 400 tonnes of carbon emissions from the local environment each year and manage approximately 160 tonnes of waste on a weekly basis.

The section of the system that links Envac’s collection station to the new Hilton Hotel and 700 student accommodation apartments has just become operational. This not only extends Envac’s use throughout Wembley but also provides a clear sign that automated underground waste collection is here to stay.

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