Taking the high road: Beating traffic emissions with automated waste collection

Underground waste collection is on the rise, with densely populated developments in towns and cities throughout the world opting for an automated approach to waste collection that is cost effective, sustainable, cleaner and better integrated within the fabric of a development’s infrastructure.

But what about the impact of traffic movements made by waste collection vehicles in and around developments? Is there a clear difference between traditional waste collection and automated underground waste collection?

And, if so, what are the implications for waste collection in a modern world?

Two Envac-commissioned studies, which were conducted by New York firm Recycle Track Systems (RTS) in 2016 and used data projection and analysis to provide a like-for-like waste collection comparison of conventional waste collection methods with automated waste collection, revealed a ‘clear and significant’ reduction in both air quality and the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions associated with global warming when using an automated waste transportation system.

Whilst the first study, which was based on a waste collection scenario for a hypothetical 6.3 million sq. ft. (585,289 m2) mixed-use building campus in a North American urban environment, also revealed interesting findings that have significant implications for the future of urban environments, this article will major on the second study.

One American town, universal implications

Focusing on a fictional mixed-use ‘new town’ residential development, situated on a waterfront in northeast America, the study’s purpose was to compare the traffic movements and emissions associated with traditional waste collection methods involving waste collections to multiple sites using multiple vehicles, with the Envac system.

Key measurables included the number of miles travelled, idling time of trucks when carrying out collections, carbon emissions, nitrous oxide and particulate emissions within a development that comprised the following:

Type of development

6,100 residential units

400,000 sq. ft. (37,161 m2) retail space

800,000 sq. ft. (74,322 m2) office space


17 blocks, 360 units per block, 1,000  sq. ft.  (93 m2) per unit

 Six blocks at 66,666 sq. ft. (6,193 m2) per block

Six blocks at 133,333 sq. ft. (12,387 m2) per block

Waste collected

Dry recyclables, organic waste and packaging

Dry recyclables, organic waste and packaging

Dry recyclables, organic waste and packaging

Waste generation frequency

Seven days a week, source separated

Seven days a week, excludes cardboard

Five days a week (Monday – Friday)


Results that speak for themselves

The findings revealed that Envac’s ability to transport waste to one centralised collection station using airflow, when compared with conventional waste collection methods, reduced:

  • Idling time by 98 per cent
  • Mileage by 75 per cent
  • Fine particulate matter (grams) by 93 per cent
  • Nitrous oxide emissions (kilograms) by 91 per cent
  • Carbon emissions (metric tons) by 91 per cent


The northeast American study has revealed results that will have no doubt lit the touch paper for a dramatic shift in thinking around how, in the 21st century, waste is handled and collected.

This, against the backdrop of a modern world whereby population growth continues to rise and municipal solid waste generation levels are expected to double by 2025 (www.worldbank.org), provides a compelling reason for developments to consider - if not embrace - a technology that leads to dramatically cleaner environments, reduces the operational cost of waste collection and removes the presence of overfull bins.

And yet the findings from the RTS study do not come as a surprise to many but merely support the feasibility studies and in-house research that Envac carried out prior to the installation of each of its 800 systems around the world.

A Scandinavian approach, the Wembley Way

Stora Ursvik, a new mixed urban area in Stockholm that comprises 3,488 apartments, office and retail space totalling 135,000 m2 (1,453,127 sq ft) and one school, is not the product of data projection and analysis but a real development with proven tangible benefits as a direct result of its decision to make Envac a pivotal component of its waste strategy.

The number of annual lorry miles attributable to waste collection in Stora Ursvik using conventional waste collection practices amounted to 1,790 miles (2,881 km), which translates as 4,238 hours that polluting industrial vehicles spent on manual collection rounds. The same area, using an underground waste transportation system, generated a total of 155 lorry miles (249 km) per year and 213 hours spent on site.

Similarly, the UK’s first Envac installation in Wembley Park, London, an 85-acre (34 ha) development that can now collect the waste of 10,000 homes in a matter of minutes, also demonstrates the system’s value in reducing vehicle movements. Through Envac, vehicle movements and the associated carbon emissions have been reduced by 90 per cent. On completion of the development, it is expected that 400 tonnes of carbon emissions will be removed each year from the local environment.

Avoiding the waste collection roundabout

The technology to enable waste to play a proactive role in shaping communities is available and the results are unequivocally positive. And as urban areas become denser, waste generation becomes greater and traffic vehicle movements increase even further, municipalities around the world run the risk of releasing even more waste collection-related pollutants into the local environments at the detriment to those who either live or work there.

However we no longer need to go round in circles when it comes to waste by opting for the familiar, traditional approach to collection. The road ahead is clear and filled with opportunity, but only if we break the cycle, move forwards and embrace new technologies.