Building in a better way for recovery

By incorporating waste management systems into a development's infrastructure from the outset, huge recycling and carbon gains can be made. Julian Gaylor explains

The UK has made huge strides from a recycling perspective over the past 10 years with recycling rates increasing five-fold. However there is still huge room for improvement and countless opportunities to transform the waste management industry. To achieve this we need to approach it in two ways – incorporating innovative waste management practices into new developments, and improving waste management levels in existing buildings.

We are currently experiencing a sea change in the way in which waste is addressed from a design viewpoint and my company Envac is testament to this. Incorporated into the initial design phases, our underground vacuum system tackles waste management limitations inherent within densely populated residential developments, by forming part of a development’s infrastructure.

Waste inlets, one for each type of waste, are placed in groups at various points throughout the site, which can range from a large development through to an entire city. A computer-controlled system monitors the waste and emptying times are programmed to suit, at which time the valve opens and the waste is sucked into a pipe system. Once in the pipe network, waste is sucked up to speeds of 70mph through distances as long as 2km.

Diverting valves ensure that different types of waste do not mix and each type of waste is directed into its correct container at a central point. The waste is then automatically fed into large containers, which are then hoisted onto collection vehicles when full and taken away by the local council or waste management company.

The fact that the system addresses so many issues explains the willingness of developers, urban planners, architects and housing managers to adopt the system. It provides a feasible and cost-effective solution that can meet the needs of a wide spectrum of projects and people no longer have to live with smelly and unsightly bins. Nor do they have to negotiate large waste collection lorries.

The Envac system provides a glimpse of how the waste management landscape could look in the near future. But should existing areas be overlooked at the expense of new developments and technology, or is it still possible to increase recycling levels for the benefit of the environments in which these buildings occupy? I believe that with a few changes to current customs and practice, the UK could see a radical increase in recycling levels within existing dwellings coupled with a significant reduction in carbon emissions.

With improving technology in our newer material recycling facilities, particularly those serving our urban areas, managing mixed dry recyclables as a single waste stream is becoming the choice of many local authorities. This reduces the need for residents to separate waste and store in multiple containers, making recycling easier and more accessible. Recycling rates can increase significantly too. Waste collection is also much simpler, with fewer refuse collection vehicle movements and less disturbance to residents.

Perhaps more important is the Government’s approach to encouraging residents to recycle. I believe local authority resources would be better spent on employing education officers to educate people about recycling rather than employing enforcement officers to punish those who do not. Companies such as RecycleBank, where users are financially rewarded for recycling their waste, have already demonstrated how successful incentive schemes are.

Councils are also clooking at how to improve food waste recycling and investing in education could play a greater role here. Expecting residents to purchase their own bio-degradable bags is unrealistic, particularly during a time of high inflation and where the public’s spending power has been significantly reduced. Supermarkets typically charge £2 for a roll of 10 bags, so can we really expect residents to pick up this cost? Councils that are rolling out food waste collection programmes would generate better results if these bags were given out free of charge.

Additional barriers to carbon reduction include the large numbers of collection vehicles that operate in city centres during peak hours. The waste industry is busy trialling various forms of hybrid vehicles to improve efficiency. But there are over 300 local authorities in the UK – this still equates to significant levels of fuel usage and pollution. On a macro-level, would it not be better to establish recycling and collection partnerships between neighbouring authorities? This has proven to be successful with disposal contracts, where the financial and environmental benefits are clear.

Waste management strategies hugely influence the planning process and this has encouraged new products and technologies to appeal to the architectural profession, which now considers this as an essential component of their building design and an innovative alternative to conventional waste collection. The days in which the only consideration given to waste provision was where to put the bins once the buildings were built seem to be over.

However this still leaves us with a high percentage of buildings where waste management and recycling levels can and must be improved. The need for more efficient approaches to waste management are required for financial and environmental reasons, both of which can be achieved through a greater level of education and by creating a culture of reward and not one of punishment.

Julian Gaylor is managing director at Envac UK

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