The city of Bergen was one of the cities in Europe to use underground waste collection to cover its entire city center, around 7 sq km and 12,000 households
Back in 2008, the Bergen city council decided that all future waste collection in the medieval city center should be shifted from bins and containers, to underground pipes. 2015 sees the official opening of BIR Nett – the underground waste collection system. Over the course of 2017 and 2018 the network is expanding and work is ongoing for many years to come. BIR Nett AS, a fully owned subsidiary of BIR AS, the local waste management company, is implementing the project. Municipal departments such as the civil engineering department, water & sewage department, the parks commission, building authorities, the public health department and representatives from city hall have all been consecutively involved within this urban development project.
Customers have to use an ID-key chip to access their allocated inlet. The inlets are multi-functional, i.e. both customers from private households (shopping bags), business customers (100l bags) and passers-by can use three different hatches. All customers have access to waste inlets 24 hours, 365 days a year. The solution can handle household waste, paper, plastic & cardboard. To secure a complete waste management solution, the system will be enriched its own solutions for glass & metal and bulky waste (trenched tanks and mobile recycling stations). Through a system of pipes and a vacuum principle it arrives to the terminal where the waste is collected.
The estimated construction cost for the underground waste collection system was NOK 1.239.860.000. These costs include the development of the pipe system, costs for all inlets and the construction of two waste collection stations. Households pay a fee which covers a large part of expenses.
Evidence of success
In areas with the new system in place, the old waste bins and containers have been removed, giving the inhabitants of Bergen more space, better hygiene and lowered risk for fire. In addition the new system has had very few technical problems since being put into operation. At the same time, it has contributed to a higher level of recycling among the residents living in the city center.
Since Bergen has a medieval city center, it was often uncertain what would be found in the ground when construction of the underground waste system began. Both the natural geography of Bergen as well as the already existing infrastructure can at times be challenging.
Potential for learning or transfer
A bold political decision in 2008 - all waste handling in the city center to be moved underground. Underground waste system wass constructed together with other infrastructure: district heating, rehabilitation of water/waste water, cable infrastructure. Pay-as-you-throw fee is now integrated in system with ID-registration. These all brought a high quality system with no down-time, good-looking inlets, with higher service-level results in satisfied customers.
Few challenges which this system can be a solution could solve are the city's narrow roads and limited space for waste storage and many wooden houses (fire hazard) posing a fire hazard. Recycling in general was limited before introducing the underground waste system with integrated PAYT-fee.
Installing underground pipe system is only possible with good cooperation with other infrastructure utilities. Collecting household- and commercial waste together is possible with ID-tracking