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Roosevelt Island's Pneumatic Garbage System

On New York City's Roosevelt Island, residents have long lived free from the roar of garbage trucks. Instead they use Avacs, an island-wide system of pneumatic tubes that moves trash to a central location for processing.
August 21, 2015, 11am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Phillip Capper

For Roosevelt Island residents, garbage disposal is as simple as dropping the stuff down the chute. The island's Automatic Vacuum Assisted Collections System (Avacs) does the rest. Avacs is a "pneumatic tube system, one of the largest in the world. It sucks up roughly 10 tons of trash from the island's 12,000 residents each day."

"Despite its futuristic job, Avacs, largely unchanged since it began operating in 1976, is surprisingly mechanical. There are no computer screens, just six dials for pressure and air speed [...] The employees operating Avacs have never collected trash from the streets, and instead have backgrounds as mechanics and maintenance workers more familiar with boilers and centrifuges than garbage bags."

The article discusses some of the system's drawbacks, including residents who toss in Christmas trees and furniture. "When serious problems occur, such as damage to the tubes [...] a crew from Sweden, a world leader in pneumatic garbage, makes the trans-Atlantic journey to slide through the tubes and patch holes."

Now, New York stands to gain another Avacs. "The Related Companies, developer of the Riverwalk complex, likes Avacs so much that it is installing one at Hudson Yards on the West Side of Manhattan. There, three tubes will handle trash, recycling and possibly compost."

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Published on Monday, August 3, 2015 in The New York Times
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