As 70% of the world’s population is projected to live in urban areas by 2015, cities present sustainability challenges but also exciting opportunities for innovation. The vast majority of the required new homes will be medium to high-density developments, in other words apartments or flats. Resource recovery is one of these challenges. Collecting and processing waste (which could be a resource) in high-density environments such as cities is difficult and expensive. The European Union has introduced a circular package that has a target of 65% recycling 2030, to achieve this target proper consideration of waste management must form a fundamental part of the design and planning process for all new residential and office developments.
To achieve the goal, design, behaviour change and technological solutions that enable and encourage both households and businesses to adopt more resource-efficient and cost-effective behaviours need to developed and implemented at the master-planning stage.
For households and smaller businesses, recovering mixed and often contaminated materials from a large number of individual properties will always pose challenges. These challenges are particularly acute in high-density dwellings and offices, for three main reasons:
1. Providing enough space to store recyclable materials, both for the individual dwelling, and to bulk up materials in the building while awaiting collection
2. Securing the buy-in of residents and office workers to the effort involved in ensuring that materials are allocated to the right containers and put out at the right times
3. Balancing the need for regular pick ups with the transport and disruption generated
In many cases, developers build to sell buildings, not to manage them, so their priorities are price of construction, meeting regulations, and, crucially, the kudos needed for an effective sale. Sustainability is not yet a kudos factor in any very sophisticated sense, so perceptions of what is ‘green' become confused and can amount to ‘green bling’. It is essential that such consideration takes place early in the planning of new developments as 80% of all the environmental costs of a project are determined during the conception and design phase.
The advantages of considering sustainability at the outset are not just about 'Green Bling', there are huge social and transport opportunities. Take as an example, treating waste from houses and shops as a utility and fitting an underground vacuum system. This system will reduce the need for bin stores in every part of the development, rather a central material management space. The advantages of this approach are:
1. Stopping HGV movements on site (no refuse trucks going to each site)
2. Designing developments for smaller vehicle movements and therefore more pedestrian friendly
3. Significantly easier way of managing waste and recycling for both residents and businesses
4. Reduced cost of construction as separate floors for bins are not required
5. The opportunity to collect food waste, treat it on site and produce gas and compost
6. Significantly lower running costs
7. Better social impact (no more skulking around the bin stores)
8. Equivalent fitting costs when compared to the civils for separate floors
9. The opportunity to develop a SMART waste and resources system
These are just a few of the many benefits to consider when designing a new development and the impact strategic planning of waste management can have.
Ultimately, we need to see waste as a utility, alongside gas, electricity and water, and consider how they are linked. Where a lower ground is being used for existing services, it could also be dedicated to materials recovery. Or it might be possible to utilise lift shafts for moving both energy and materials, freeing up floor space. We could store water on the top floors of buildings, using gravity to pump it around, or store it under buildings, using energy from waste (eg Combined heat & power (CHP) plants burning unrecyclable wastes) to pump it around. There is the option of using vacuum systems, which do work, and are gradually recovering from their bad reputation from malfunctioning early versions. They are not the only solution, but they should be considered as they do promote good materials management in the home as they are easy to use.