No wheelie bins to be seen as UK’s largest underground bin system takes first load

The UK’s first largest underground bin system, in the newly created Cambridge suburb of Eddington, had its first load of residential waste collected last month, three weeks after residents first moved in.

The new 150-hectare North West Cambridge development will have 450 underground banks - supplied by Portuguese-based Sotkon UK - across 155 locations when fully completed, separately collecting general household waste, mixed recyclables, and paper (including a separate compartment for batteries in the paper units). It will be the biggest such system currently operating in the UK.

No wheelie bins to be seen as UK’s largest underground bin system takes first load
The underground system is popular on the continent, but has yet to take off in Britain save for a select few locations, including Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens, where around 200 regular bins have been replaced with 16 Silobin Semi Underground Containers, and in the Tower Hamlets borough of Poplar HARCA (Housing and Regeneration Community Association).

‘A completely new way of working’

The Eddington underground system has been designed to create a significantly lower visual impact for residents than wheelie bins, 9,000 of which would have been needed to cater for the entire site.

Bin chutes set into the pavement outside homes drop waste into large underground chambers, which are emptied by specialist vehicles that hoist the containers out of the ground with cranes and empty the waste into the vehicle.

Developers claim that the subterranean network of bins will also lower carbon emissions by reducing frequency of lorry collections: at far greater capacity, the bins take longer to fill up, and are fitted with with sensors meaning they are only collected when full.

Cllr Rosy Moore, Cambridge City Council’s Executive Councillor for Environmental Services, said: “This significant project represents a completely new way of working with partners to collect recyclable materials and waste in an urban environment, so to see it come to fruition with this attractive system operating is very satisfying.”

The development has been created by Cambridge University to provide housing for University and College employees, as well as post-graduate student accommodation, as well as community facilities including research space, a primary school, doctors’ surgery and retail units. Around 8,500 people will live in the development when it is full.

Residents will have clearly labelled bins in their homes that match the signage on the chutes outside, while information will also be provided through leaflets and an online residents' portal.

“The University’s vision for Eddington to be an exemplar of sustainable living has been shared with the local authorities throughout planning for the development,” said Heather Topel, Project Director for the North West Cambridge Development, the University of Cambridge. “We hope that the bin system will help people live more sustainably by encouraging residents to think more about integrating recycling and waste into everyday life. The unique underground bin system is something which has captured the attention of many and we hope it will also be of interest to the local community.”

The future of recycling?

Eddington’s newly operational underground bins highlight a potential new direction for the future of waste disposal in the UK. Plastic Omnium, the company responsible for Poplar HARCA’s bins, claims that underground systems are about to take off here - especially in areas in need of regeneration - something discussed during Resource’s webinar ‘Taking Waste Underground’.

Speaking to Resource for its detailed look into underground systems in the UK, Sotkon CEO Hélder Barbosa said: “Door-to-door collections have been a part of British life for a long time, and perhaps that is why underground systems have been slow to take off there.”

However, it seems developers could be swayed by the aesthetic benefit of undergound bins (which prevent odour from escaping as well as the clutter of the bins themselves) and efficiency of collection they provide.

And although the infrastructure is expensive to implement, Joe Watson, Business Development Manager of Plastic Omnium, the French multinational that supplies the underground systems for Poplar HARCA, suggests that, over the long term, that initial cost is recouped. “The capital investment is obviously a lot more than a traditional system, but by the time you look at the reduction in the amount of collections, the fact that you don’t have to repair burnt- out bins, you don’t have the ongoing cost of vermin control... we’ve done some calculations, and over a 10-year period, an underground system is very much comparable with what you would pay for a traditional system. Eventually, they make their money back.”

A closer look at underground bins can be found in Resource’s feature from last year.

More information about the North West Cambridge Development can be found on the development’s website.

Related Articles