The case for multi-modal transportation of waste and recyclables in London using the capital’s canal network was put forward at London Remade’s fourth local authority network meeting, held at the Institute of Physics in London last month.

Modelling studies have shown that London boroughs can achieve significant cost savings in their waste collection rounds by using a multi-modal refuse collection vehicle (MMRCV) which transfers waste containers onto barges, or onto flat beds, which can then be taken away from the round.

A rear end loading device, the MMRCV works by sealing the waste inside a container that can be lifted off the truck at certain transfer points. The first MMRCV has already been built and will shortly be delivered to the UK by HN Logistics where it will be used for trials in two London boroughs – Haringey and Hackney.

Cost and carbon benefits

According to Paul Dumble, waste freight co-ordinator for Transport for London (TfL) – which has been involved in the project – the MMRCV presents a key opportunity to reduce collection costs and CO2 emissions, particularly considering that waste vehicles represent 8% of all freight transport and contribute 23% of freight CO2 emissions in London.

“The initial figures are quite staggering,” he said. “In one of the boroughs, the cost of collection using the existing fleet of 23 vehicles is about £3 million. But by treating the waste logistically – by picking it up on a flat bed or barge – we’re able to reduce the costs and there’s a 20% to 25% saving which equates to between £800,000 to £900,000.”

He added that cost savings were likely to vary between boroughs and that any savings made would be needed to fund the site, vehicle and loading points.

Dumble further emphasised the case for moving waste to water as roads in the capital become more congested. He predicted that by 2020, London would require up to 120 new facilities to handle an additional nine million tonnes of waste.

“Options for barge and road transport of waste are becoming more economical,” he argued. “If we don’t get this opportunity to move five or ten million tonnes of waste materials down our canals in the next four to five years, you’re never going to get them down the roads because they will be too blocked.”

He pointed out, however, that an effective multi-modal transport system would require a regeneration of London’s canal system. “The canal is 200 years old and a lot of the infrastructure has gone. We need to start developing loading and unloading facilities and to build up demand for canal-side utilisation. Developing the canal is probably the single biggest project London can carry out to reduce its CO2 impacts.”

Strategic infrastructure network

A wider picture of intermodal transport was painted by Dr Robin Curry, regional manager for Ireland at the Envirocentre, who demonstrated the environmental and economic benefits to England and Wales of a multi-modal mass balance approach.

Dr Curry gave an overview of the Sustainable Transport of Resources & Waste (STRAW) report, published earlier this year, which called for a strategic network of waste management facilities across the UK to reduce the environmental impact of moving materials between different locations.

Central to this would be a network of strategic resource recovery facilities (SRRFs) which would form part of an intermodal transport system, integrating rail, inland waterways and coastal routes. According to Dr Curry, this would cut the number of miles waste is transported by road and in turn, reduce CO2 emissions from trucks.

“The sites with the most potential for SRRFs are the existing coal-fired power stations as most of them have intermodal access and many of them are already located by waterways.”

He added that the planning system was crucial if the report’s projections were to be achieved and Envirocentre has issued complementary planning guidance to encourage the development of new, sustainable facilities. “We are keen that waste planners look at the guidance and start trying to steer some of the strategic waste planning thinking,” he said.

Wembley goes underground

Homing in on a key project, Jonas Törnblom, director of corporate marketing & communication at Envac, spoke of an underground waste transportation system that will be installed at the new Wembley site next spring. The Envac system will link all housing – some 4,500 flats – and shopping areas around the Wembley site, handling around 80% of the total volume of residential and commercial waste collected from three streams (glass, electronics, bulky and hazardous waste won’t be included).

Around 287 waste inlets will be installed and it’s estimated that the system will handle 88m3 of waste per day. The system works by automatically removing waste from the inlets by underground pipes using airflow to a central collection system.

Törnblom said that a recent simulation carried out in Stockholm, Sweden, compared the Envac system to conventional RCV technology to discover the impact on waste transport.

Weekly disposal patterns were calculated for flats, offices and a school in the area. It was found that with the underground waste system, 44 valves (out of a total of 339) were full for a total of five hours – compared to having 139 bins full for a total of 1,841 hours using the conventional set-up.

“The waste collection trucks don’t come when the containers become full, they just come once or twice a week. Whereas the Envac system has a level indicator so when a certain level in the valve has been reached, a signal is sent to the collection system and the valve is emptied within minutes,” he said.

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