Tuesday, June 2, 2015

port side under ground

The rain gathers around us, in an increasingly frantic swirl, as David and I stand staring at a square patch of cobblestones, waiting for it to move. We are at the Stockholm Quay and David, a civil engineer and Head of Group Business Development for the Swedish vacuum waste removal company Envac, is giving me a tour of one of their recent systems. There is a faint inner beeping in the remote control device he is holding and soon the hidden trap rises majestically. Several cyclists slow down and turn their heads.

We descend underground. The stairs reverberate with metal clanging with each step. We are in the belly of the port, a bright green vessel before us, with blue and green pipes in and out, Pompidou style. I am looking at the inner workings of the Stockholms Hamnar waste disposal system.

This is where trash is sucked from the self-emptying litter bins scattered around the port; from the larger bins where ferries unload the coffee cups and breakfast dishes of commuters and tourists weaving between the islands of Stockholm’s archipelago; and from the kitchens of the nearby Grand Hotel.

David opens a steel door and shows me several large motors running the vacuum which suck the port’s rubbish. There is a smell certainly, a faint unmistakable tangy stewing of waste, but it is dampened and really not as strong as I would have expected in a tight space of compressed garbage. David shows me the plans which sketch the underground system, with vents for air to enter and leave the system. He points out where the garbage is compacted and then raised to street height once a container full, for truck collection. No-one works regularly down here he tells me, it is a station run remotely. Indeed there are few signs of humans, besides a pair of grease-smeared gloves and the emergency escape tunnel in case someone gets stuck.

It’s stopped raining by the time we step out from the underground chamber. As we stroll to the metro, David tells me that one of the reasons Envac won this job was because their solution meant quick removal of large amounts of garbage, without it piling up. He shows me how the inner sensor works in the bins, which monitor their fullness. As a glass recycling truck noisily empties its load behind us, we talk about the future of cities and the role for vacuum waste disposal in dense urban spaces increasingly excluding cars.

As we hurtle underground again, this time on the metro, David tells me about the strange things that are found in the systems they service – Christmas trees and whole bikes for example. I ask if they are ever contacted to retrieve valuables – “Yes!” he says, people have their wallet/keys/phone in one hand and the garbage in another and before you know it the keys go in the trash tubes and they are left holding the garbage. Passports have been known to go in too. I can just imagine. I know that tingly urge to throw something off a bridge and often worry that valuables will go down into the depths of the underground, when I recycle in my local communal bins.

I am further intrigued when David talks about the systems they are building in India, where the garbage that is sucked pneumatically is then sorted not by machine but manually, by hand. We continue to chat as we head towards the Hammarby Sjöstad district where David has a meeting and where I will visit the GlashusEtt. More about that in the next post!

All images © Anna Harris.
My thanks to David Jost and Klas Torstensson for the guided tours of the Envac vacuum waste disposal systems, and to Jonas Törnblom and Malin Lennen for arranging this.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Great firsthand research! Thanks for this informative post, especially the photos of the retractable accass stairwell.