The UK is currently at a crossroads when it comes to the waste industry, says Envac UK’s general sales manager, Dave Buckley. So which way to turn as our population grows? Which solutions best suit our growing island? And how do we make the most of what we have available?
The word “legacy” in the context of major projects such as regeneration schemes, the Olympics or, dare I say it, nuclear energy, is often bandied about. However, its use often leaves me cold and feeling that it has become so widely used – if not overused – that it lacks any real value.
So, when used it in the context of waste, what does legacy mean, what does it look like and how do we make it happen?
The UK is currently at a crossroads when it comes to the waste industry. Despite being part of an island and an area that has already been subject to huge development over recent years, England continues to grow.
Let’s take London, for instance. With a current population of around 8.7m over approximately 1,600 km2 of landmass, it is fair to say that the capital is densely populated. And with figures from the Office for National Statistics pointing towards London’s population increasing to almost 10m by 2024, London’s density is only set to increase.
With an increase in people come two things: reduced space and increased waste generation, both of which are at odds with each other. Furthermore, 2024 is only eight years away and when you consider the slow speed at which developments progress from planning phase to construction phase, then it is quite clear to see that that London in particular is slowly being pushed into a corner. It would be different if the pioneering use of new technologies or solutions that can mitigate a slowly shrinking footprint and growing waste output were being used in abundance. Sadly, they are not.
Helping To Blossom
Of course, my role is to help underground vacuum waste collection blossom in the UK and become a standard component of local governments’ waste collection strategies. And whilst I would like to see local authorities in the UK’s densely populated cities make the Envac system their first port of call, I understand that this isn’t a realistic expectation.
However using space below ground doesn’t have to entail our technology. Surely making the most of what is currently unused – and arguably wasted – underground space is the way forward for waste storage and collection and an idea that, not too many years from now, people will question why it wasn’t done sooner.
Even the alternative, which is masses of above-ground bins lining the streets, won’t be a viable alternative in London at some point in the near future. Why? Because they take up valuable space, they look unsightly when full and the amount of vehicles required on the roads to empty them will not only turn London into a carbon emissions hotspot but also potentially lead to even more accidents caused by HGVs. Incidentally, in London in 2014, HGVs accounted for four percent of all traffic, but 55 percent of cyclist and 12 percent of pedestrian deaths.
Streets lined with bins, roads jammed with collection vehicles and the sight of litter strewn about the roads as a result of overfull bins is not something I particularly want to experience. Nor is it something that I want my children to grow up seeing.
Whilst I do not want to be perceived as an alarmist we, the UK population, are running out of time and we have been deliberating for far too long. We know that we need to do things differently, however there seems to be a degree of paralysis gripping those who have the power to make the necessary decisions.
Underground waste collection, regardless of its form, represents a viable route to achieving cleaner streets, less vehicle movements and sustainable communities. It is also a viable route to creating not only a legacy that those currently working in the industry can be proud of, but also those contributing to it in 2024 and beyond.