About This Live Project

Sheffield Homes is an Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) set up and owned by Sheffield City Council to manage council housing in Sheffield. As our client, Sheffield Homes offered us a list of potential project briefs for us to choose from, all of which deal with important issues and concerns regarding the current council housing stock in Sheffield. Our group decided to embark upon developing innovative solutions to address the important issue of waste disposal in flatted council estates. Our hope is that our efforts can offer strong design initiatives on the topic whilst creating awareness and incentive on the importance of recycling and proper disposal of household waste.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Inter-Studio Presentation tomorrow

Just a quick note to inform you all that tomorrow (6th November) shall be the day that we present our proposed solutions to the waste management problems of flatted estates within Sheffield, typical of Sheffield Homes' stock. The 6th November is also my birthday as EVERYBODY in the group knows after this week!!

Our presentation in the morning will display all our solutions from the High-Tech...

...to the Low-Tech

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Waste Paper

As we proceed with our chosen ideas, let's not forget those that didn't make the cut:

Whilst branding/imagery will more than likely play a large role when introducing a new system into any existing estate, our proposals have become a little more technical, attacking the infrastructure itself. But playful ideas regarding branding may resurface within a number of our suggested intiatives...

Monday, 3 November 2008

News from the Front

This afternoon I once again had the opportunity to speak with the team leaders of the Sheffield Home's Estates Officers (East City). I found it quite nice to see familiar faces again, some of whom I had work shadowed a couple of weeks ago. All were very positive to have me around, eager to hear how our project was going, though there was natural sceptical undertone felt regarding what we could actually achieve.

That aside, the most important element of this visit was to acquire their collective feedback on several ideas that we have been developing in small groups. Shifting my focus from the problems they deal with on a daily basis to feasibility of potential solutions was indeed refreshing approach. All ideas presented were well received regardless of whether they were too high-tech, costly or generally off-the-wall. I think they were just encouraged that an outside party, such as ourselves, were eager to address their troubles.

Without jabbering on and on about the experience, below are the main points to come out of the meeting, some of which should apply to the majority of our initiatives:

  • The current system offers virtually no solid way of enforcing fly-tipping laws... The reason? The act itself must be witnessed for any report to have any substantial weight behind it... The subsequent outcome? No one is afraid to fly-tip - end of story...
  • The point above also means that numbering bags or any other method of waste tracking would likely require a lot of planning, all party consideration and validity in the courts.
  • Offering responsibility / shared ownership / access to the bin stores for tenants is considered out of the question. However such an idea is not impossible that if an advanced code/lock system were used instead of a simply lock and key.
  • Fly-tipping will be collected by Estate Officers up to the external areas and the bottom of stair cores. Any other waste e.g. 3rd Floor landing, would have to be reported before collection would happen.
  • Any mechanism for larger hopper heads must comply with health and safety codes, no exceptions there (even if the usage was controlled by lock & key).
  • They liked the idea of creating a system which could reward those disposed of waste appropriately and penalised those who severely transgressed i.e. An Estate Officer marked rating system, which could be integrated into a responsive feedback loop.
  • They agreed that they could not be a single perfect solution to all of the problems considered so far. They were encouraged that several of our ideas merged together could offer an optimum solution that would, on the whole, make their jobs easier.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

This city is a Factory.

Some reflections on role / scope / outcome:

2 Economies 
It is odd that we see the disposal of waste as a single topic or problem - which can be contracted to a single organisation, or designed as just one system. We would never try to impose the same level of organisational simplicity on, for example, supply. How we supply ourselves, with what, from where, and how often has become a matter of societal expertise. We are good at it - in fact we are probably too good at it: Shopping has subsumed leisure, culture, public space... But the complexities of supply are understood as market complexities, where demand, desire, brand, lifestyle, logistics and ethics compete. The final destination of the consumption pattern is the house. Beyond the house - suppliers lose interest. The house, after the individual, is simply a secondary unit of consumption.

We don't (yet) see waste in the same way. We don't yet see houses as commercial units for the production of valuable 'waste'. The big difference is that over the last century, the central mantra of supply has been choice. The ability to choose between products not just in and of themselves, but increasingly for the 'ethical' choices they represent: "Fair trade", "Organic", "Local" (For more thinking on this, look at the Food Map Live Project here).  The first, and most obvious thing to point out about these is that this kind of choice is made according to moral value systems, and those value systems belong almost exclusively to the upper / middle class. They are (at times meaningless) Cameronisms which represent a green chic gloss over the core reality: That these choices are luxury products, completely inaccessible and value-less for somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of the population. The same can be said of the 'choices' introduced to the waste market. As unpalatable as it may seem, "recycling" and its moralisation has become a think-lite moral luxury, assuaging the guilt of the relatively well-off, but of little or no concern to everyone else. It is a Jamie Oliver / Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall middle class phenomenon. 

As Tom pointed out to me, the difference is value. We don't mind travelling to the shops under our own steam, because we desire what we want to buy there, and we see where we travel to as an act of choice. We do mind travelling to the recycling bank under our own steam because we value significantly less the end result. Perhaps not surprising, it might be argued, since our televisions are full of adverts which cause us to overestimate the value that a bought product will be to us, but very few adverts (but still some) which cause us to overestimate the value that a disposed product will be to us.

Trickle-Down Waste Economics?
What is missing is the passing-down of economic value in the waste economy. It is probably unfair of us to expect everyone in society to behave as workers in the municipal waste factory until we are rewarded with some kind of "wage" (which may or may not be monetary) for doing so.  Those trained to be (painfully) aware of the environmental sinfulness of landfill waste could be said to be showing some kind of altruism, but even they (we) are recovering some kind of 'feel good' / 'guilt-ease' value from the act. 

As an interesting aside, a recent article in New Scientist estimated that in the event of total societal breakdown, cities contain only about 3 days worth of food at any given time. It would be interesting to know  an equivalent statistic for waste. How many days worth of waste is in a city at any moment?

The Top Trump Solution
So how, as a strategic design project do you design waste? What is our value?Even focusing specifically on waste disposal in flatted estates - about 6% of the dwellings in Sheffield - is not necessarily any less absurd than trying to conceive of a total system for the supply of everything to those same flats.  Unsurprisingly, there is no single, clear solution - we have to hit the right balance of being bold enough to take on the issue and try to offer something new to the conversation, but no so arrogant as to think we can think of a total solution which somehow Sheffield Homes - who are grappling with this problem all the time -  have not thought of. Nonetheless, what we can do is cast new light on the question - test out a set of ideas, principles, and specific practical proposals. None of these proposals are a 'solution' - but they are what we have been calling 'top trump' solutions. Gains in one aspect of performance are offset against costs in others. You can't turn any one reality off:

Psychology / Beahvoir

 A problem that can be endlessly redefined can be endlessly half-solved, so part of our value is to identify key points of engagement - reasons to focus on one area and not another - to prod at the loopholes.

It occurred to us that from our own perspective, one of the most compelling aspects of the project is simply understanding (and making understandable) the system as it is. We can, for example, now tell you (roughly) what your bin is worth (we're not going to tell you yet - tune in next week). We've also realized the extent to which our taking-on of this problem as a 5-week topic is a form of exchange (we hope about 50-50..) We contribute ideas, but in return, take on a new awareness of the problems which could be eased / exacerbated by the design of buildings.

A Lesson
Waste disposal is simply not seen as an architectural problem  - certainly not a glamorous one. 'The bins' are either neglected until the 11th hour of the design process, or at best swept under the carpet as a design issue. As Tom pointed out, the 50's, 60's & 70's has offered some exceptions to this generalisation, in that chutes were clearly thought of as an integral function of high-rise dwelling. But society has moved on - the monolithic 'black bag' mindset has left us with fixed, permanent artefacts which struggle to cope with the oncoming complexity of 'after-the-house'  market logistics.  We (as architects) need to stop seeing bins as isolated objects, but as interfaces in a bigger, complicated economic / political / cultural system. We need to be wary of making bins into foreground objects, and even warier of making waste disposal a moral tax (on time/money/intellect / self-respect). But, perhaps paradoxically, in order to liberate building users, professionals need to make waste disposal an integral part of normal design thinking. Designing those systems/services well might have as great (or greater) an impact upon quality of life as will the thoughful design of the formal / aesthetic / three-dimensional properties of dwellings.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Just stumbled upon...

I have just accidentally stumbled upon a very interesting blog discussing many of the issues we are concerned with, and from some personal viewpoints.

Have a look: Chute the Messenger


New and improved?

Will retrofitting or replacing the existing chutes to encourage recycling solve the existing problems facing the waste disposal system?

No! While cleaning mechanisms can be installed to improve the chute hopper area, most problems will remain. Some tenants will still choose to throw their rubbish off of the decks and bin bags will still be too large for the chutes. It seems recycling and waste management have to be tackled through different means.

Where the existing chute fails.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Bridging the Grey

Below I draw upon ideas expressed by James's Ownership of 'waste' post and Al's developing concept of a integrated waste receptacle door.

The current situation (external landing flatted estates):
Issues to re-cap

  • Fly-Tipping is frequent and predictable occurance but essentially uncontrolled, thus Estate officers are forced to check all landings and stair cores.
  • The chutes are inadaquate to deal with large bags and hopper heads are even smaller for child safety concerns.
  • There is a notional 'no-mans land' between the tenants defensible space and the lacking waste disposal infrastructure.

A potential future? (external landing flatted estates):

System interventions
  • Tenants no longer have ownership of the chutes, they are now only accessible for Estate Officers. This removes the need for hopper heads and allows for larger openings, hence bigger bags can be thrown inside. In addition, the chutes themselves could be flexible to receive a variety of wastes (e.g. General waste, glass, cans and paper) providing the correct paladin bin is appropriately positioned below.
  • The waste disposal grey area / 'no-mans land' is neutralised through the usage of a {integrated waste receptacle door} and thus becomes part of the fixed boundary between private and public space.
Though interesting in principle, and as an concept which utilises a variety of the ideas discussed earlier in the group arena, it doesn't really achieve all the hits on the linked diagram I posted earlier. The costing alone of such a scheme would perhaps be enough reason to scrap the whole thing anyway!

Learning from the Heroes

Since yesterday’s work shadow with the Estate Officers, I have been trying to reflect upon our approach to evaluating ideas. Currently it seems we are striving to attack this dilemma of a brief from both multiple human perspectives/agendas and physical design constraints. We are probably all too familiar with the suggested notion of design as like balancing many spinning plates all at once (image below probably best defines the group work example).

More and more I am thinking that in order to achieve a *gasp* {plausible design solution for the problems associated with waste disposal and management in flatted council estates} will require perfect plate balance. In diagram form it could be reflected in the following image:

It is my belief that for the design to be both practically and delightfully successful, the links in this diagram cannot be broken... Or can they? Regardless, I still think by accessing the above criteria, it will be an interesting excerise to rate our developing ideas.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Meet The Real Heroes...

Early this morning I had the pleasure to shadow-work alongside an efficient team of Estate Officers working for Sheffield Homes. Not long after the crack of dawn, we set out on a routine patrol of around a dozen estates (see bottom of post for full list)...
The team's goals were fairly straightforward; check every estate block for instances of Fly-Tipping, properly dispose of it and 'Litter-Pick' all dumped litter around the communal landscape areas. Despite my fairly rounded expectations, I was still shocked at how widespread the problems of Fly-Tipping really were in flatted council estates - and more importantly, the extra effort these guys are required to put in to tackle it.

OK, so lets break the main issue down a little, importantly drawing from discussions with the Estate Officers themselves...

First of all, seen from the tenant's perspective:
  • The vertical chute system is out-of-date and doesn't have the necessary capacity needed to cope with modern black bin culture.
  • Tenants have little or no alternative but to leave their rubbish outside bin rooms / landings for collection.
  • A small portion of tenants from ethnic minorities may not consider Fly-Tipping to be an offense.
And now the role of the Bin Collector's (Veolia ES Sheffield) actively pursued work-to-rule policy:
  • All loose bin bags (outside of typical bins / 'paladins') will NOT be collected or handled.
  • Overloaded bins will be off-loaded on site until acceptable full capacity is achieved AKA If the bin is beyond full, the excess will be removed and subsequently left behind.
  • If the bin room door is blocked (and blocked can simply mean just a couple of black bin bags up against the door) then the collectors can refuse to move the waste and thus not proceed with the collection.
  • If the roads are inadequately sized or blocked by parked cars, then collectors can refuse to attempt collection to that block i.e. They cannot maneuver their truck close enough to the site for convenience.
So what sort of situations does this leave us with? Well it leaves an ever-shifting grey area of waste management for these Estate Officers to monitor and deal with routinely three times a week. Currently they bridge a vital gap in a system with a shockingly out-of-date waste disposal infrastructure and a privatised collection service that refuses to take any extra initiative.

Below are some of the situations I frequently observed on our patrol:

Large items such as televisions, sofas, cupboards and mattresses could be found anywhere from right on the doorstep of the prior owner to the middle of a block's courtyard area. These items would be removed and loaded onto our truck - then taken to the nearest dump and ultimately bound for landfill.

The images above summarise the typical locations for Fly-Tipping in flatted estates i.e. Outside the bin rooms and at the bottom of the internal stair cores (note the small chute above waste pile).

Around 9/10 of the blocks I toured had a greater quantity of Fly-Tipping than the amount of waste found inside the huge paladin bins (see typical example above). In most cases the dumped waste will be properly disposed of by the Estate Officers into the paladin bins. However larger items will always be taken back to the truck where capacity is always limited.

Above you see a typical situation where the chute has become blocked by two carrier bags wedged against each other. The above right image shows the 'Dry Store', which is basically an additional communal bin store which the tenants can access to dump larger items - these items are collected by the Estate Officers and loaded onto the truck. I was told that these guys will often go out of their way to assist anyone moving large waste out of their flat to speed up the process and keep waste levels in these stores down to a minimum.

It was a truly an eye opening experience following these guys around and witnessing first hand the extent of the waste management problems they face on a daily basis. I was definitely impressed by how eager they were to tell me of their experiences and thoughts on the causes of problems. It is very clear they are caught in the middle of a problematic system, again whereby a modern collection service meets head on with a out-of-date waste disposal infrastructure. In my opinion these guys could be accurately representative of being both our client and end-user - our proposals should seek to make their jobs less of a strain whilst more manageable and rewarding.

Estates / Flatted Blocks Visited:

  • Margate Estate
  • Lopham Street
  • Verdon Estate
  • Burngreave Estate
  • Earldom Drive
  • Earldom Road
  • Spital Street
  • Brunswick Road
  • Pinford Lane
  • Nottingham Street
  • Nottingham Cliff
  • Andover Street
  • Killton Road
  • Montford Estate

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Why Hide Fly-Tipping? Why Not Add Interest?

What about OUR 'Black Bag Culture' ?

As a side project, the group have also been thinking about the way we handle our own waste in the Artstower.

Without speaking for the various other departments within the building (although I suspect the same applies) it is quite obvious that the architecture department has a very well developed 'black bin culture' ... or rather a series of large mini-skips in which students are left to 'fly-tip' to their hearts content.

Is our own recycling system (if in existance?) actually working? Are we all being hypocrites?

Maybe we need to look at our own 'default' before re-designing everyone elses.

Experiment PHASE ONE - Un-Enforced Waste 'Donation'

This collection approach mimics the supermarket car park collection.

The collection points are located in one central location (beside the main door on floor 17) and require students to make a small effort to remember that the bins are there AND to walk across and deposit their collectables rather than just dump them in the skip bins.

The collection bins have been in location for almost a week now and there seem to be mixed results.

It appears from the contents of the collection bins that a small selection of students need very little prompting to use the bins.

However, a quick scout around the studio highlights the fact that people are still throwing everything into one bin.

...apparently blue is the new black!

Cardboard, plastic, paper...all of which can be recycled....simply by walking over to our 'recycling centre'.
.....STAGE TWO coming soon!

Where does it all go?

These diagrams explain visually how our waste is processed in Sheffield, looking in particular at Sheffield Homes' stock. They show not only the path of the stuff we throw away, but also the flow of money between tenants, local authorities, companies and non-for-profit organisations, revealing their functions and interests. They're compiled from a wide-range of sources, and hold some quite unexpected twists and surprises.

We're looking at ways to publish these files in large format so visitors can spot mistakes, or information which is missing. If you'd like to comment or ask us to email them to you, please let us know below by clicking on 'comment'.

Diagram 1 / This is the 'default' for many homes in Sheffield who have a black bin and a blue bin. Apart from these blue bins, recycling doesn't really appear on the radar  - but note that Veolia are recovering steel and energy even from the black bags via the incinerator (ERF).

Diagram 2 / This is a minority 'best case' scenario in Sheffield. It illustrates a rare condition where a tenant has a black bin, a blue bin, a green bin. But note that in order to get the left over black bag waste down to a minimum, you need (in most cases) to have a car and the motivation and storage space to collect and take your plastic, metal, textiles and glass in separate containers.

Diagram 3 / By contrast, this is the default in flatted estates in Sheffield. Everything goes in the black bag.

Diagram 4 / Many of the pilot projects which have looked at introducing recycling to flatted estates have used this method; nationally it is the norm. It fits the 'recycling as an added-extra' model: placing big supermarket-style recycling tubs in the grounds of estates. The problem is that it relies upon the motivation (and, again, the storage space in flats) to collect waste, carry it out, and sort it into the bins.  It asks for a high price in users' time. In areas where people are motivated to recycle (notably the better-off parts of London), it has worked ok, but everywhere else, understandably, it is dramatically underused. We would suggest that just using publicity campaigns to persuade people to take more effort and use these facilities is a hard-work way to make an impact on this stalemate- and probably one which is doomed to failure. We have to look for alternative systems that make recycling and responsible waste disposal compulsory and easier.  In other words: the default.

There are lots of people trying to do this, and there are no obvious or straightforward solutions. It's proving extremely tough (but interesting) as a design challenge. In order to do it, we've been getting beyond the issue of 'recycling' and zooming-in to look in detail at how waste disposal on Sheffield's flatted estates is, or isn't working...

Monday, 20 October 2008

Fly tipping

The quality isn't very good but I couldn't resist...

Bring Back Metal Dustbins!

Well, somebody seems to think so...


I mentioned my visit to Eureka a couple of meetings ago, here are a couple of images showing the only recycling intervention they had on display within the museum.

The container has three slots on each side, labelled 'Glass', 'Aluminium' and 'Paper'. The children are encouraged to take these plastic 'chips' which have different images of waste products printed on them such as a small group of empty bottles. If the children deposit these chips in the appropriate slot then a noise, typical of that product falling into a container, sounds (such as a glass bottle smashing). If incorrect, a buzzer sounds followed by a voice explaining that this product does not belong in that particular container.

Eureka - the Museum for Children

Back to the Drawing Board

Hello Team,

To update everyone about a rather revealing meeting this morning with Sheffield Homes, we have a bit of re-thinking to do. Which is good.

Looking, the way we have been, at the system of waste disposal on two different scales: one as the whole system, the other being waste at the point of disposal is shaping up to be a useful communication tool.

There were a number of important issues raised, firstly we cannot feasibly run a trail test of cardboard chutes. Health and safety is a major issue with this one, the material has to be costed, tested and vandal proof. This type of idea can remain as proposals, but they will require some serious thought.

In response to the idea of smaller colour coded bin bags: they have trailed the idea of using small bags in the past but it was deemed as being more expensive. There is also a health and safety issue involved in the handling of plastic bags and even though housing estates officers do currently carry out this role it should not be part of a long-term solution, there should be a move towards automation.

The idea of an event held on a specific estate is a possibility but the aims and outcomes should be clearly beneficial to the long term goals.

That is the emphasis here, our work needs to reflect serious and practical thinking as well as more blue-sky concepts.

Dow Jones + Arup Study for London

Rubbish In - Resources Out: Design ideas for waste facilities in London is a report by Dow Jones Architects and Arup’s alternative waste technology specialists.

They developed four design scenarios which examine different types of treatment technology, scale and location, and anurban proposal for each scenario. These range from a large scale, multi-borough facility on the fringe of the city, to a small scale, local facility on a restricted inner city site.

Maximise input/Minimise appearence

Waste management strategy in The Netherlands. Subterranean containers allow for large capacity street waste disposal with minimal appearance at street level. With this strategy it becomes easier to separate different types of waste. I envisage such an approach has potential to increase the water table.

Stocking up!

Having decided to concentrate on devising an effective waste management strategy for Sheffield Homes we were presented a comprehensive brief focusing on recycling in Sheffield Homes’ tenement housing stock. Sheffield Homes’ brief highlights the extent of current recycling/waste management issues defining the housing typologies we are encouraged to investigate (with existing examples), these include:

1. Deck access flats & maisonettes with communal rubbish chutes/Greenland Estate, Darnall & Busk Meadows

Greenland estate is situated adjacent a busy dual carriageway and contains three-storey blocks of single-storey flats. Ground floor flats are provided a traditional black bin as well as a blue bin. The subsequent flats above rely on chutes with no distinction between domestic and recyclable waste. Although there is no visible recycling provision for individual flats it is possible they are provided with baskets inside their flats for paper and card.

The blocks of Greenland estate enclose a large communal green/play area. In this communal zone there is a recycling bank with bins for glass and cans these appear to be intermittently used.

Busk Meadows is almost identical to Greenland however is in desperate need to renovation, chutes are blocked, doors and windows to communal staircores are burnt, rusty or just none existent. Despite having greater variation of recycling options than Greenland fly tipping is far greater at Busk Meadows with amenity space adjacent bin stores covered with litter.

2. Multi-storey blocks with individual bin chutes/Leverton Towers, Hanover Way

Traditionally, Sheffield’s multi-storey tower blocks were designed with chutes running through balconies of individual flats. This became problematic as maintenance workers found it difficult to access certain flats to clear blockages. As a result usage of these chutes has been discouraged (as the council cannot block the chutes) in favour of using large bins provided outside the towers. Maintenance workers encounter fly tipping in corridors or around the estate and essentially it is perceived residents contribute very little to recycling banks rather the maintenance workers take it upon themselves to separate recycling from domestic waste.

The renovated tower blocks at Netherthorpe are of the same typology as Leverton but the re-cladding of these blocks has incorporated balconies to provide additional area for the flats as a result the original chutes are now inside these flats. We aim to take a look around one of these flats sometime this week to discover what alternatives are provided and how the existing chutes are concealed.