Eliminating Trucks on Roosevelt Island for the Collection of Recyclables and Commercial Waste While Significantly Improving Energy Efficiency and Reducing Land Requirements

The environmental and economic impacts of New York State's waste-management system could be dramatically reduced by (a) decreasing the number of truck miles required to collect waste and (b) decreasing the demand for long-distance transport to remote disposal facilities. One neighborhood in New York City--Roosevelt Island (RI)--offers a rare example (the only one in the state and, apart from Disney World, the only one in the country) of a municipal waste collection system that is largely free of trucks and the adverse environmental impacts they produce and also offers unique opportunities for decreasing the volumes of waste that must be exported to remote landfills. Since the now-12,000-person full-service community on the Island opened in 1975, none of its residential non-recycled municipal solid waste (MSW) has been collected by traditional sanitation trucks and personnel. Instead, it is whisked from one end of the Island to the other through an underground pneumatic tube, thus saving building space, labor, and the costs and environmental impacts associated with daily sanitation trucks; also, providing the health and quality-of-life benefits associated with the fact that unsightly bags of residential trash are not set out at curbside (as they are everywhere else in New York City) to produce odors and attract rats, pigeons, and insects. The vacuumed MSW is then compacted in the terminal facility and hauled off the Island in containers. Yet, advanced as RI's Automated Vacuum (AVAC) system was by 20th-century standards, it no longer represents the most innovative and sustainable complement of waste-handling techniques that 21st-century technology could achieve. The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC; a New York State Public Benefit Corporation) manually collects and hauls over 70 tons a year of material from RIOC non-residential facilities and sidewalk litter baskets. Residential building managers still make thousands of pickup-truck trips a year to haul over 650 tons of source-separated paper and metal/glass/plastic from their buildings to the transfer facility at the Island's north end. And hundreds of heavy-duty compactor trucks still rumble up the Island's narrow streets every year to collect the bags of commercial waste that the Island's business owners set out at curbside. Meanwhile, roll-on roll-off trucks drive to the two NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) hospital campuses located on the Island every two days to remove over 1800 tons of non-hazardous waste. If there were additional inlets to keep recyclable wastes separate from MSW, and a metering system to allow business owners to be charged for the volume of wastes they deposited, these wastes and even others--material from the refuse containers in the Island's parks, non-hazardous wastes from the Island's hospitals--might be collected and transported automatically, underground, rather than by truck. For each truck eliminated from their streets, Roosevelt Islanders would benefit from reduced congestion, noise, and harmful particulate emissions, while citizens in New York City and farther afield would benefit from reduced fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. With a redesigned terminal facility and equipment and digital controls, the terminal building footprint could be halved, energy use could be reduced by at least 25-30%, and labor costs could be reduced from 8 full-time workers to 2. RIOC might be able to use the space freed up by a smaller terminal to provide additional, complementary services to its residents (such as processing of waste to produce economic and environmental benefits, or a facility that would reduce the nuisances and impacts associated with other material flows, such as outbound construction-and-demolition debris or inbound building materials). These enhancements to the existing system would produce immediate benefits on Roosevelt Island. To the extent that improved recycling and metering methods (which could also be applied to residential waste) increased waste diversion from landfilling and reduced waste generation rates (as separate pneumatic collection of recyclables and unit-waste charging systems have been shown to do elsewhere), they would also reduce waste-transport and disposal impacts in other parts of New York City, New York State, and the US. The Contracting Team will be led by the University Transportation Research Center for US DOT Region 2, which is based at The City College. The UTRC personnel who will be managing this study have demonstrated expertise in both freight and waste-management issues and have extensive experience working with New York City agencies. The developer of the original AVAC system, Envac AB--the global leader in pneumatic waste systems, with over 600 installations worldwide--will be UTRC's primary project partner. Architect Juliette Spertus, who has studied the AVAC system on Roosevelt Island in depth and is the creator of a highly successful exhibition and international symposium on the system, will be the project co-manager. After collecting data on volumes and handling methods for wastes that are not currently transported by AVAC, and after soliciting the opinions of residents, building management companies, business owners, and the New York City Health and Hospital Corporation, the Contracting Team will develop detailed engineering recommendations for both near-term and long-term options for improving the operation of the AVAC system. By assessing the costs and environmental impacts of this recommended suite of improvements relative to current systems, using a software model developed by Envac, the Team will provide RIOC with a firm basis for making decisions that could significantly reduce costs, provide environmental benefits, and improve the quality of life not only on the Island but well beyond its shores. Though the installation of an optimized AVAC-type system, depending on the circumstances, could cost upwards of several million dollars, experience with other Envac facilities in Europe and Asia shows typical payback periods of 10-20 years. A full accounting of the benefits from reduced energy usage and greenhouse and toxic emissions and other environmental externalities would reveal a significantly shorter payback. If this feasibility study results in significant enhancements to the 40-year-old AVAC system, RI--in a now-more-environmentally-aware nation--would offer a proven model to be replicated elsewhere. A new suite of system components developed at RI could have wide applicability to other locations in NYC and NYS. In New York City alone, major development projects such as Atlantic Yards and Gowanus Green in Brooklyn, the MTA's West Side #7 subway line extension and development of the rail yards in Manhattan (Hudson Yards), and Arverne in Queens could be prime candidates for this virtually truckless, MSW collection system. Well-suited to university and hospital campuses, industrial complexes and shopping malls, a modern AVAC system's applicability would be self-evident statewide, even in less dense regions.


  • English


  • Status: Active
  • Funding: $100713.00
  • Contract Numbers:


  • Sponsor Organizations:

    New York State Energy Research and Development Authority

    17 Columbia Circle
    Albany, NY  United States  12203

    New York State Department of Transportation

    50 Wolf Road
    Albany, NY  United States  12232
  • Project Managers:

    Tario, Joseph

  • Performing Organizations:

    City College of New York

    Civil Engineering, Steinman T-127
    140th Street and Convent Avenue
    New York, NY  United States  10031
  • Principal Investigators:

    Eickemeyer, Penny

    Kamga, Camille

  • Start Date: 20110314
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 20130930
  • Source Data: RiP Project 28665

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01485465
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: University Transportation Research Center
  • Contract Numbers: 55819-00-01
  • Files: UTC, RIP
  • Created Date: Jul 2 2013 1:01AM