By Paul Hemsley
The ubiquitous sight of wheelie bins cluttering-up the footpath on rubbish night could soon be a thing of the past for sardine-style residents of inner-city Sydney if an experiment that banishes household refuse to underground hoppers goes to plan.
City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore has announced a novel trial of subterranean rubbish bins in the central suburb of Darlinghurst as the council attempts to make more from less by freeing up valuable space in awkwardly narrow Victorian-era streets and lanes.
The buried waste project in Royston Street in Darlinghurst is being billed as an Australian first by the council and will have 15 standard-sized wheelie bins turfed to make way for new roadside “chutes” that residents can put their rubbish in as normal.
The system works by having the rubbish fall into an underground cavity that holds a subterranean bin which can then be can pushed up by hydraulic lifts and then emptied into garbage trucks by council staff.
Restricted access to narrow streets and lanes by council rubbish collectors has remained a widespread problem for many densely populated inner metropolitan areas of Sydney where housing stock is usually dominated by small, terraced workers cottages that were built well before car-parking was an issue and rubbish was often just burned.
The City of Sydney has now installed five large 1100-litre bins underground where three will be used for general waste and two for recycling. An option is available to change the mix depending on the amount of rubbish and recycling required.
Similar systems are already being used by other cities overseas, particularly in Europe, with some success.
The issue of refuse collection in Royston Street has been a long-standing issue because it has limited street frontage coupled with apartment buildings. The City of Sydney made an earlier attempt in the 1980s to solve the rubbish issue by building a bay on a traffic island in the middle of the street to put the wheelie bins, but this became problematic futile when recycling bins were later added to the mix.
According to the City of Sydney, the bin overcrowding has previously attracted unwanted rubbish dumping and an increase in unwelcome pests.
Ms Moore said the new underground system being trialled is expected to reduce the amount of bins that the city has to deal with.
“This is an innovative and practical way to manage traffic on these small streets, reduce clutter and beautify these streets for local residents,” Ms Moore said.
While the City is asking for feedback from residents, it has also acknowledged that underground communal bin systems are not practical for many other city areas, where it claims it is easier and more efficient for residents to leave bins in the street outside their homes on the night before collection.
The underground design of the bins is not only a crucial factor in “beautifying” the city streets and providing space for garbage trucks in narrow streets; it also plays a key role in reducing the numbers of vermin that have historically plagued high density urban areas, with some species recently thriving on waste.
A now persistent sight in parks and public places in the inner city area of Sydney is the Australian White Ibis bird – unflattering nicknamed ‘the rubbish bird’ that is frequently spotted using its long beak to rummage through bins and create extra unhygienic mess for council workers to clean up.
Ibis are now so prolific that a census is being undertaken to try and estimate their numbers.
A benefit of the new underground bins is that they are likely to prevent the birds’ ability to reach into the rubbish.
A City of Sydney spokesperson said that although combating pests is not the primary function of rubbish collection, the new underground bins helped avoid the problem of vermin.
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