Researchers in New York City are studying the idea of creating a pneumatic-tube-based trash disposal system that will transport waste out of the city through a system of tubes.
The proposal by researchers at the University Transportation Research Center (UTRC) at the City University of New York envisions a series of tubes, both underground and above ground, to take solid waste out of the city, eliminating the bag-and-truck-based system the city uses now. The idea was covered in a feasibility study researchers at the organization put together.
New York City already has such a pneumatic tube-based system on Roosevelt Island, a planned community in the East River that opened in 1975, Benjamin Miller, a senior research fellow for freight programs at the UTRC and former director of policy planning for the New York City Department of Sanitation, told Design News. There are also hundreds of pneumatic tube-based waste disposal systems in other parts of the world, including the Spanish cities of Barcelona and Seville, Paris, and the Wembley part of London, said Miller, who co-authored the feasibility study.
The initial locations for the system in New York would be in two places. One would be to install the tube along part of the under-construction Second Avenue subway line between 92nd and 96th streets, while the other would be an installation as part of the supporting framework of the High Line, an elevated city park on the city's west side in the Chelsea neighborhood. The Second Avenue section would service buildings in that area, while the High Line section of the system would remove waste from the park itself as well as the Chelsea Market building, which is home to hundreds of businesses, Miller told us.
The idea is to install the system incrementally and connect the pipes like Legos, since installing a system citywide would be cost-prohibitively expensive, Miller said. "The system would be a series of small systems about a mile or so long and then you snap them all together like Legos," he told us. "To build it all at once would be like building sewers if New York never had them, which would cost hundreds of billions of dollars."
Mechanically, the system works like this: People in a building or on the street in a certain area deposit waste in various bins, or “inlets," with a reservoir at the bottom that connect to a pneumatic tube. There will be separate inlets for different kinds of waste, including different types of recyclable material, organic waste, and household refuse.
The waste is dropped into a reservoir at the bottom of the inlet that is connected to a pneumatically powered trunk tube with a fan that pulls air at a speed of 60 miles per hour, Miller explained. When the reservoir is full, a valve is opened from a control point at a central terminal and suctions the waste into the terminal for separation and eventual disposal through a large container that is picked up by a truck and deposited at a landfill or other disposal facility.
In an urban area like New York, the pneumatic tube would eliminate a lot of the pollution, costs, and other negative aspects of the current waste-disposal system, Miller said:
Garbage trucks are an enormous part of the problem. Moving that stuff is expensive, and there are a lot of problems associated with trucks like fuel, noise, odors, and traffic congestion. This avoids all of those obvious economic, environmental, and quality of life issues, and makes the overall system easier to manage.
Now that Miller and his colleagues have concluded the idea is feasible, they are looking for a contractor to build the system. "It is feasible, operationally, economically, and there are environmental benefits," he said. "Now we need to find someone who is willing to agree to do this and pay the upfront operating costs."
Each of the branch systems proposed would cost about $10 million to $11 million to build. The Second Avenue system would transport about 20 tons of waste out of the city, while the High Line system would transfer about 10 tons. However, there is the possibility to transfer much more waste, as these targeted areas and amounts were considered for the sake of the study, Miller said.