NYCHA Begins Design and Construction of State-of-the-Art Pneumatic Waste Collection System at Polo Grounds Towers in Upper Manhattan

The $31 million design-build construction project will enhance the quality of life for over 4,000 residents, improve working conditions for building staff, and save the Authority hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in operating costs by utilizing an underground pipe system to collect trash and recycling

New York – On Thursday, June 30, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) officially gave a Notice to Proceed (NTP) to a construction team comprised of Navillus Contracting, Dewberry Engineers Inc., Marvel Architects, Landscape Architects, Urban Designers, PLLC. and Atreo (Pneumatic Waste Collection Systems), for work on a $31 million large-scale installation of a pneumatic waste collection system that will serve the NYCHA campuses of Polo Grounds Towers and, subject to funding, Rangel Houses in Upper Manhattan. Once completed, the project will fully modernize trash collection and disposal methods at the campuses, by retrofitting the existing garbage chute in each building to enable vacuum-based depositing of refuse and recyclables through an underground pipe system. According to Authority estimates, the innovation will save NYCHA hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in operating costs and recover thousands of hours of time spent by building caretaker staff to move trash from interior to exterior compactors. The measure is also expected to improve overall safety for staff – as garbage handling is the leading cause of workplace injuries at NYCHA.

“The groundbreaking of the pneumatic waste collection system at Polo Grounds is a watershed moment in the life of the Authority,” said NYCHA Chair & CEO Greg Russ. “The introduction of this leading-edge technology to our waste management processes will allow for more cost-efficient and time-saving trash disposal, capable of improving the lives of our residents and increasing the capacity of our staff.”

“Making sure that our buildings and grounds are clean and as pest free as possible is one of our top priorities,” said NYCHA Senior Vice President for Sustainability Vlada Kenniff. “Pneumatic waste collection allows for more efficient and containerized trash and recycling collection and storage, which fulfills a key area of the HUD Agreement on waste management as well as a key environmental sustainability initiative.”

"The efforts of the office of Resident Engagement and the Tenants Association in educating our residents about proper waste disposal and the pneumatic waste collection system complement each other, and will prove to be a great solution for waste management across our campus – and other NYCHA campuses in the future,” said Polo Grounds Towers Tenant Association President Serena Chandler.

“This new waste collection system is good news for residents, staff, and the environment,” said New York City Chief Climate Officer Rohit T. Aggarwala. “Because the waste will be moved entirely within a closed system, there will be almost no opportunity for the trash to escape and get onto our streets (where it can block a catch basin) or drain into the sewer system (where it could end up on our beaches). It will also make recycling even easier for residents, so thank you to Chair Russ and the entire team for investing in this new waste collection system.”

“Pneumatic waste collection systems work in Europe and Asia, and they work right here in New York City on Roosevelt Island, providing large-scale developments with a cleaner, more efficient, and more reliable waste management system that can reduce pests and prevent dirty conditions,” said New York City Department of Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch. “The residents of Polo Grounds Towers will be the first public housing residents in the United States with access to this technology, and hopefully far from the last.”

“This project reflects the important research supported by NYSERDA showing how integrating technology and innovation with the building design for an essential service can help reduce carbon emissions and truck pollution in our underserved communities,” said NYSERDA President and CEO Doreen Harris. “As we continue to fight the impacts of climate change and create a more sustainable future for all New Yorkers, efficient systems like this can play an important role in creating safe, modern alternatives for waste management.”

“We are expressing our full support of the Pneumatic Waste Collection System being constructed at the two NYCHA community locations, Polo Grounds Towers and Rangel Houses,” said New York City Councilmember Kristin Richardson Jordan. “Seeing that similar systems are already in place in other locations around the city and are fully functional is incredibly promising and brings forth hope for this project and the impacts it could have on NYCHA residents. Sanitation has been an ongoing problem in NYCHA complexes and this project alone will provide nearly 4,000 NYCHA residents with a better quality of life that is long overdue. We look forward to its construction, implementation, and use.”

“The Center for Zero Waste Design applauds NYCHA for awarding a contract for a pneumatic waste system for trash and recycling in Polo Grounds Towers,” said Center for Zero Waste Design Executive Director Clare Miflin. “New York City needs to transition from hauling bags of trash - which bring litter, rats, and cockroaches - to collection systems which use containers. Pneumatic waste systems are an excellent solution for large housing complexes and used in many large housing projects in other cities such as Hong Kong or Singapore. This will reduce pests and improve labor and quality of life in the housing complex.”

“This is a major innovation in handling waste well and will inspire others when they see and hear of how the daily lives of the Polo Grounds Towers community has been improved,” said Claire Weisz, Founding Principal WXY architecture + urban design, and the Put Waste to Work campaign.

A pneumatic waste collection system uses a powerful vacuum to suck trash from individual buildings through underground pipes to a central collection facility, which can serve buildings from as far as two miles away. The same pipe network can be used to collect separate recycling streams by switching containers. The Polo Grounds demonstration of the system will have the added benefit of serving nearby Rangel Houses. A similar version of this technology has been in use on Roosevelt Island for decades, which was the only area of New York City to have uninterrupted trash collection during the blizzards of 2010-11 and Superstorm Sandy. NYCHA will bring the first iteration of a pneumatic waste collection system to a public housing authority in the United States – as similar systems are currently in place in Europe and Asia.

In a pneumatic waste collection system, residents throw their trash in their building’s trash chute, identical to how such refuse is disposed of currently. Once the storage at the bottom of the trash chute is full, the system is turned on and a discharge valve opens. From there, fans at a central collection facility create a vacuum that pulls the refuse to a collection facility at up to 60 miles per hour. At the collection facility, the trash is to be compacted directly into sealed containers while the exhaust air used to gather the trash is filtered and released. Recyclables will be disposed of in separate chutes in new ground-floor recycling rooms and will travel to the central collection facility in the same manner.

The team assembled to develop the pneumatic waste collection system will utilize a design-build project delivery method, which streamlines and combines design and construction into one single point of responsibility, in a single contract, on the basis of which the design and construction teams can deliver the best project at the best value.

Navillus Contracting – the lead partner on the project – has worked with the Authority for 15 years on various capital infrastructure projects and expects to complete construction of the pneumatic waste collection system within two years. The project team aims to minimize disruptions to residents and maintain flexibility around construction by approaching the three major facets of the system – installation of the piping network, reconfiguring of the waste rooms, and the establishment of a terminal building for garbage and recycling collection – as separate standalone projects that would interface with each other and offer flexibility around design and construction scheduling.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) helped fund two influential studies on the feasibility of bringing pneumatic waste collection to New York City which helped facilitate the technology used in this project. The studies showed that such a system results in reduced truck miles and use of diesel fuel, fewer carbon emissions, and reduced accidents.

The groundbreaking of the pneumatic waste collection system at Polo Grounds is just the latest advancement of automated technology in this area at NYCHA. This past March, the Authority sought to bring hoist-lifted mechanical waste collection to New York City through a request-for-information from manufacturers and haulers of surface, submerged, and semi-submerged trash containers. NYCHA is planning to release a Request for Proposals (RFP) later this summer to pilot this new technology.


About the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), the largest public housing authority in North America, was created in 1935 to provide decent, affordable housing for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers. NYCHA is home to roughly 1 in 16 New Yorkers across over 177,000 apartments within 335 housing developments. NYCHA serves over 339,000 residents through the conventional public housing program (Section 9), over 29,000 residents at developments that have been converted to PACT/RAD, and over 92,000 families through federal rent subsidies (the Section 8 Leased Housing Program). In addition, NYCHA connects residents to opportunities in financial empowerment, business development, career advancement, and educational programs. With a housing stock that spans all five boroughs, NYCHA is a city within a city.