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.

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.