Waste collection/disposal remains one of the most environmentally damaging functions of local government. How can councils mitigate this whilst maintaining a high quality service? For Ben Parsons, Senior Consultant at APSE Solutions, Underground Refuse Systems (URS) are the obvious answer.
So, it is out there, climate change is real, it is happening, it is going to get worse and we need to take action now. Waste collection / disposal remains one of the most environmentally damaging functions of local government, save that of perhaps highways.
The question that follows is undoubtedly ‘what do we do?’ Beyond ensuring that as much material as possible is collected for reprocessing into reusable products through increased source segregation of a wider range of materials, most service managers immediately turn to considering electric vehicles. They certainly have their place and, despite their cost, reduced payloads and range restriction, this remains a common approach. However, in terms of the preference hierarchy, the best approach must be fewer vehicle movements. This is something which is difficult to achieve without reduced collection frequency, which also may not result in the best environmental outcome.
However, this is only one aspect of managing climate change. The other is undoubtedly the impact of the weather. Not only have we seen this played out vividly on our screens this year around the world, we have already experienced it here in the UK, as our weather has and continues to become, more extreme. This is likely to increase the risk of service disruption as it potentially becomes too hot for collection personnel. There is also the possibility that our winters, although generally warmer, will become more extreme. This may include occasional but significant problematic snow fall, too high winds to safely collect in and, of course, flooding. These events can have a number of impacts on waste collection operations as follows:
It sounds like an impossible situation to manage, doesn’t it? However, there is a waste / resource collection methodology that will undoubtedly minimise the impact of all these issues in most situations and the most striking thing is that it is neither new, nor untested; that methodology is Underground Refuse Systems (URS) and, what’s more, the entire package is immediately available on a procurement framework for you to draw down from!
How does such a methodology mitigate against all these issues at once:
Source segregation of materials is becoming increasingly challenging due to the ever-changing waste / recyclate stream and the materials involved. Each collection round is unique due to the prevailing demographics, meaning that kerbside sort becomes inherently inefficient as one compartment fills up first. A global pandemic resulted in an immediate, sustained, waste profile change which now means the cardboard compartment will fill first, potentially resulting in service disruption and increased vehicle movements.
URS allows for the collection of low or high occurrence waste materials to be collected separately, even in rural areas with minimal carbon outputs. The container will tell you how full it is and software identifying when containers should be collected at the optimum time, allowing valuable recycling streams to be collected, like waste electrical equipment, batteries and textiles, economically and the recovery of it leaving a carbon responsible output, not only on the collection, but reduced subsequent processing. The other clear benefit of making WEEE or battery banks widely available is the reduced fire risk, subsequently reducing the associated service disruption and unforeseen costs.
The use of restrictive apertures assists in reducing contamination, as does the ability to dispose of the right waste in the right container without concern over capacity. Their very open design reduces people’s willingness to leave additional items.
Improved segregation and cleaner material, like full source segregation, then lends itself to more local processing, with minimal cleaning and bailing, prior to direct market access. Reducing the potential issues associated to complete loss of treatment facility.
The significantly increased capacity of the bins (up to 5m3) means fewer bins, lower collection frequencies, on a real-time, demand led basis, enabling capacity led scheduled collections that are adaptable and able to be completed anytime, including overnight (depending on the material and collection methodology), all of which reduces the numbers of vehicles required, milage travelled and carbon footprint.
Alternative vehicle types can be used rather than the conventional refuse collection vehicle, which can result in a better payload that when coupled with the higher collection productivity is likely to improve the viability of electric vehicles, especially as fewer vehicles would actually be required, reducing the charging infrastructure and vehicle purchase capital costs.
Other options include demountable bodies (one example depicted in the photo above - click to enlarge), permitting a swap to a non-compacting skip if preferred for WEEE or glass for example, or with a grab attachment for the collection of fly-tipping or appliances. This option could be used to support responses to flooding, the vehicles being ideally suited for sand bag deliveries and moving high-capacity pumps to avert impending disaster at reasonable cost, of course they can also accept winter maintenance equipment too. This would be made possible by route software being set to show all containers which are likely to have less than 2-3 days capacity, which could all be emptied the day before the expected storm. Resulting in no waste service disruption and civil contingency capacity. With minimal or even no outside of the vehicle presence or labour required by some systems, they can be safely operated in most extreme weather, especially heatwaves, and when high winds are forecast you would simply make collections in advance or after the clean-up.
In terms of lost containers, they are highly unlikely to get blown too far and many options are unlikely to suffer badly in the event of flooding, indeed careful product selection ought to prevent issues. Though on another note, to assist in pandemic proofing the service, if the containers are not open apertures, foot pedal operation of the hopper is recommended.
This article has been written by Ben Parsons MCIWM, a Senior Consultant with APSE Solutions, involved in the creation of the APSE & Liverpool City Council URS Framework which enables all public bodies to make direct drawdown of all things URS available in four separate lots, including the units themselves, installation and maintenance, vehicles to empty them, and all related technology / telematics, including fill level sensors, container & vehicle weighing, routing / service confirmation software.