Half a century ago on 4 October 1961, Sweden’s most modern hospital was inaugurated in Sollefteå. For the first time ever waste was going to be handled in an automated underground collection system. But the waste handling system was not the only modernity in the new hospital.
The town of Sollefteå is located 200 kilometres south of Umeå and just over 500 kilometres north of Stockholm. It is a small community of just over 20,000 inhabitants in the interior of Norrland County, surrounded by magnificent scenery including forests, mountains and water courses.
The hospital was designed for 328 patients and 328 staff. The kitchen staff alone consisted of 25 people. The building was constructed on nine floors above ground and three below ground. The total investment amounted to EUR 3.24 million, including staff accommodation. There were many novelties: there was to be a TV set in almost all wards and all patients would be able to listen to the radio.
Innovative ideas present new challenges for familiar technologies
The hospital was going to have a central dust suction system supplied by a Stockholm company called Centralsug AB (later known as Envac). At that time central dust suction systems was nothing new. It had been installed in office buildings and similar facilities for years already. However, it was entirely new to link the waste management to the dust pipes. The project would become Europe’s largest dust suction system, with 500 suction valves and 6 kilometres of pipes in the walls, connected to a 400 mm waste suction system.
“It will be especially interesting to see how the central suction system will work,” hospital manager Thore Larsson said in an interview with a local newspaper when the hospital was inaugurated. “We know that in many respects it is extraordinarily effective, but we don’t know if it will be sustainable from a purely financial point of view.”
The best investment ever made by the hospital
At the end of 2010, 49 years after the interview with hospital manager Larsson, it was time to replace the fans of the syset. To justify the required investment, Vincent Måström, operating manager, calculated how much the hospital had saved on the waste suction system since its commissioning. He arrived at the conclusion that they had saved the cost of three part-time employees for nearly 50 years.
Local incineration of waste
Originally, the idea was to suck the dust and waste into an incineration plant in the hospital grounds. This was carried out until 1985, at which time the furnace was decommissioned. The small scale incineration of waste was no longer permitted and the oven lacked the required air cleaning technology. The remaining components from the inauguration include the cyclone, the piping system and the chutes. In 1985, the cyclone was connected to a waste container that was emptied by lorry once a week. In 1971, a new nursing home with 120 beds was also connected to the waste collection system.
Karl Göran Hammarberg, who started to work for the hospital back in 1974, knows the system like the back of his hand. “In principle, it has worked smoothly throughout. Occasionally there have been stoppages in the pipes and we have been forced to fish out mattresses, chairs and other things that do not belong there.”
On 12 October 2011, Sollefteå Hospital celebrated its 50th anniversary. If nothing else, the fact that we can also celebrate 50 years operation of the world’s first and oldest waste suction system demonstrates the sustainability of the technology.