Underground Trash-Sucking Tubes May Expand to Manhattan

06.20.12 Allison Burtch

Though pneumatic garbage sounds like some sort of gross bronchial sputum (sorry!), it’s actually the term for Roosevelt Island’s trash system in which giant tubes suck garbage away from the island at speeds of up to 60mph. “AVAC,” or Automated Vacuum Collection System, is the acronym for the collection system that was developed in 1975 as NYC’s only pneumatic trash system and the nation’s second, after Disney’s AVAC system.

In a 2003 interview with the New Yorker, Ron Marli, one of the people who controls the AVAC suction valves discussed the ideology behind Roosevelt Island’s trash system. “The idea was no trucks,” said Marli. “No garbage on the streets.”

It’s been going strong for 30 years but in need of some sort of revamp as more residential high rises have been built on Roosevelt Island. Envac, the Swedish company who developed it, is also exploring options to expand it to greater NYC, including under the Coney Island boardwalk or possibly the Highline, according to a Forbes article. Their website mentioned the heavy fuel usage of NYC’s garbage collection trucks, remarking that they “average 3 miles to the gallon of gasoline.”

Alex Pasternack over at Vice interviewed Juliette Spertus, a curator of an exhibition on the trash system. “Pneumatic collection is not always the answer,” she told Pasternak. “It is not cost effective in low density areas. Even in areas that use pneumatic systems, not everything is collected through the tubes. Bulk wastes: appliances, furniture, etc. can’t be fed into a tube the way they are fed into the back of a garbage truck.”

Remember, “everything you see is future trash.” It’s gotta go somewhere.

Check out this 2010 video created by Gregory Whitmore about Roosevelt Island’s pneumatic trash system.

(Photo: Screenshot from “Nature Abhors a Vaccuum“)