How do you reconcile the quality of life in cities with effective and efficient waste collection? 

This is the question at the heart of ‘Urban Waste Collection’, a project being run by VIL, the Flemish innovation platform for the logistics sector, and for which VITO is providing the scientific underpinning.

Waste is produced not only by a city’s residents, but also by businesses based there, and this waste needs to be collected. However, in order the improve the quality of life in cities, local authorities are implementing all kinds of measures that are preventing selective waste collection. Low-emission zones, city traffic circulation plans, and time windows for loading and unloading are just a few examples. These restrictions are often localised, while selective collection is increasingly being carried out by inter-municipal cooperative societies and private-sector collectors operating in different cities. 

So, in which technologies, equipment and operational solutions would collectors have to invest to allow the selective collection of commercial waste to run smoothly and efficiently? We not only need to devise those solutions; we also need to ensure they are easy to implement. The search for answers forms the subject of the VIL ‘Urban Waste Collection’ project. 
Six cities and inter-municipal cooperative societies plus seven companies and organisations involved in commercial waste collection have signed up to this project. The project team has analysed the commercial waste streams in eight cities in Flanders and examined what restrictions have been imposed on collection services. It asked what the impact of such restrictions is on the selective collection of specific commercial waste streams, such as kitchen waste, paper and cardboard, used fat and oil, rubble, and residual commercial waste. What technological and logistical factors are needed in order to arrive at a solution? The project gave rise to an additional benefit: an innovative logistical approach provides opportunities that lead to a more circular economy. VITO is investigating what contribution can be made by each approach, and how we can ensure we gain the maximum benefit.

The project was launched in April 2018 and ran for two years. The solutions now being developed for each city take account of both economic and environmental costs. The policy recommendations being produced can be implemented in other cities. This project addresses both the quality of life in cities and effective and efficient waste collection. The aim is to find solutions that offer maximum valorisation of municipal commercial waste, and to answer the question of how we can recover more useful materials from waste more efficiently. We hope that this project will accelerate the transition to a more sustainable world.

The project was completed in 2020. Nine solution paths were put forward that could offer an answer to the aforementioned problems: ranging from 'Hubs in the urban periphery' to 'Multimodality' to an 'Uber concept for waste'. From workshops and analysis, the concept of the 'neutral' or 'white car' emerged as the most feasible option. This concept was then further developed by means of a pilot in which competing companies worked together to collect urban waste: a milestone in Flanders.

Two pilots were completed. Project participants SUEZ and Renewi developed the pilot project 'Collecting together for you'. The objective was to collect PMD roll containers jointly from companies in East Flanders by using their own vehicles bearing a common logo. Imog, Vanheede and A3 Verhuur also tested the concept of the white car. In this pilot the collection of residual waste from both households and companies was carried out in Waregem using one and the same vehicle.