In the popular cartoon Futurama, a maze of vacuum-powered suction tubes is used to transport people around the city of New New York – but did you know that a similar system is currently in use under Roosevelt Island in present-day NYC? OK, so it’s far less advanced and it carries trash around instead of people, but it’s capable of moving garbage from buildings around at speeds of up to 60 miles an hour. The Automated Vacuum Collection System (AVAC) has been so successful on the island that the city is thinking about taking the tech city-wide, eliminating the need for garbage trucks as well as the associated traffic and emissions.
The AVAC System was installed under Roosevelt Island 30 years ago when urban planners were trying to turn it into a futuristic haven for the disabled and the mentally ill. Now Envac, the Swedish company that originally built it, has been bought in to upgrade it and potentially extend it to other parts of the city. Interestingly, Envac is known as “the global market leader in automated vacuum waste collection” and has built around 600 such systems in the Middle East, England, Southern Europe and Asia.
The entire project is being conducted by City University and funded by two city agencies, who are planning to stretch the AVAC system south to include the Coney Island boardwalk and Chelsea in Manhattan. The proposal states that the “trash tubes” could be installed underneath the infrastructure of the High Line in order to save on construction costs.
So why not install AVAC systems all throughout New York City? The short answer is efficiency. It’s simply not practical to install the systems in low density areas especially when bulk waste, such as furniture, cannot be collected by the tubes.
However that is not to say there isn’t any future potential. Speaking to Alex Pasternack of Motherboard, Juliette Spertus, an expert on AVAC, said: “Even the major disadvantages, start up cost and administrative complexity (where should the pipes go and who is responsible for them), are opportunities to bring service infrastructure into the design discussion and raise important questions about public space. To install a pneumatic system, or any alternative to trucks, a municipality or developer has to quantify the real cost of the current strategy, weigh the benefits, and project into the future. This seems like an invaluable exercise no matter what the outcome is. I think that developers and municipalities are remiss if they do not explore pneumatic collection any time they are putting in new underground infrastructure.”
What is clear is that New York needs some sort of efficient trash disposal system. While recycling is on the rise in the U.S., 77% of plastics still end up in landfills while municipal solid waste totalled 249.9 millions tons in 2010.
Images: COPYRIGHT ENVAC