Suck It Up – Underground Trash-Vaccuuming to Replace Dump Trucks in QDS

ENVAC Automated Waste Collection System from Envac website,

The automated waste collection system sucks away trash, recyclables and organic waste through underground pipes with a 90 km per hour sucking power. Image from Envac website.

There aren’t going to be any dump trucks blocking up the streets in Montreal’s new Quartier des Spectacles. Last Wednesday, the City approved a proposition to replace public trash cans with receptacles for garbage, recyclables and compostables, all hooked up to an vacuum-powered collection system. Waste placed in each receptacle would be sucked into a network of underground tubes and transported to a central processing location (possibly located in Place Desjardins).

At first glance, this system may seem unduly costly and invasive, not to mention energy intensive. But since the streets in the QDS are already slotted to be ripped up in order to replace ageing sewers, aqueducts and power-lines, throwing in the waste-collection system will only cost an additional $8.2 million. Under the new system, garbage collection in the neighborhood would rely on electricity rather than fossil fuels, which may not be a bad idea given the cost and environmental impacts of burning fuel.

Most importantly, the new garbage collection system would also apply to residents and businesses located in the Quartier des Spectacles. For instance, the restaurants in Place Desjardins would be able to be compost food scraps, saving several hundred tons of waste from landfills each year.

Although Montreal is behind cities like Toronto who offer composting for household waste, this initiative would be the first in North America to offer composting on the public domain and for businesses.

ENVAC, the European company that engineers these systems worldwide, built their first trash-vacuuming system in Stockholm in 1961 and it is still in operation (it has an expected lifespan of about 50 years, although that is probably standard for sewers and other infrastructure).

Teaching the hoards of drunken festival-goers and clueless tourists to sort trash from recyclables and organic waste is a challenge for the future…


  1. This is great! But will this mean the roadwork will take longer? When will this system be finished?

  2. OK. So that actually sounds like a great idea. BUT I am a little weary about it because this still put the pressure on people to clean up their messes. A lot of people care enough to walk to a trashcan, but some people, like it or not, are just going to throw their trash on the ground no matter what kind of suction power the trash has!

  3. wow, it will be amazing. I’m glad the city now seems to take a greener approach than it used to have. Now let’s get rid of those polluting constant traffic jams downtown…

  4. What a innovative idea! – This means less mess on the streets of Montreal. Specially in the summer time, when the heat hits the garbage cans, it smells aweful.

    It would be great to see this new system expands to other areas like old montreal, where the main streets are covered with garbage bags every weekend.

    Great post btw.


  5. “Teaching the hoards of drunken festival-goers and clueless tourists to sort trash from recyclables and organic waste is a challenge for the future…”

    For a website that proclaims to understand the urban landscape, you all certainly have very little faith in the people that actually inhabit it.

  6. How much faith can you have in the people that inhabit Montreal concerning throwing garbage in the right place? People here prefer to throw the garbage on the ground than walking a couple of meters to throw it in a trash can. This is by FAR the dirtiest city in Canada, and probably among the 5 dirtiest in North America. Concerning garbage, vandalism and general infrastructure, Montreal does not look at all like a first world city. Please explain how much faith they are supposed to have in these people.

    This article sums it all up:

  7. I’m constantly bewildered by the descriptions of Montreal as a “dirty city”. Coming from New York, Montreal is remarkably clean for a city of its size. I suspect whatever “dirtyness” exists is more a result of a vibrant street scene than any inherent built in flaw that Montrealers possess. Granted, cities with CBD’s that shut down after business hours may have less litter as a result of an absolute lack of people of the sidewalks, but I don’t think that’s it’s a model for Montreal to emulate.

    I can’t help but chuckle at those who write and argue against redevelopment and gentrification (presumably on the basis of preserving what is “gritty” and “real”), but then, in the same breath, whine about the inability of people to keep the city pristine.

  8. Am I the only one picturing some poor scrawny homeless person being “sucked into a network of underground tubes” as he or she leans way in to find some bottles and cans?

    Soylent Green!

    (Sorry, feeling snarky today.)

  9. I agree, people saying that Montreal is a dirty city are either absolute clean freaks or have never left the city (or at least, have never visited an American city). I was in Philadelphia a couple years ago and couldn’t believe the mess I saw there. In some places, such as under overpasses or in empty lots (which there were plenty of) you couldn’t see the ground for the trash. I was told that locals take to calling the city “Filthadelphia”. However, despite the mess, Philadelphia is still a wonderful place.

    Furthermore, whether it means anything or not, Montreal is constantly making lists for “cleanest city in North America/world”. For example, Forbes rated Montreal at #10, tied with Vancouver and Bern, Switzerland.

  10. I have visited 7 or 8 cities in North America (and about 20 outside), and Montreal is the only one where I have to zigzag through all the garbage almost every single day in neighborhoods that are supposed to be cool and hip, like the Plateau or the Gay Village. The Main is just disgusting, full of graffiti (and not the nice one!), vomit and food on the ground. In Ste Catherine street, the sidewalks are made of cigarette butts and garbage, the garbage cans are *literally* *floating* on garbage. Why is Montreal supposed to be like Philadelphia? Why do you need to compare to other cities or link to some list in order to “prove” that Montreal is clean? I live here, I know what I see. I know exactly what this guy is talking about

    I don’t say this is not easy to solve. Just clean it up and raise the fines (and actually enforce them!). This seems to be too difficult for our city.

  11. I think we might be living in different Montreals, I’ve never had to “zigzag my way through garbage” in Montreal. Looking out my window right now for example, I don’t see a single piece of trash. Sometimes I do, but the street cleaner comes by once and awhile and cleans it up or sometimes, people who live here (myself included) pick it up and throw it in the garbage cans.

    Of course the city gets dirty sometimes. When thousands of people share a street, evidence of that is going to be left behind in the form of litter on the sidewalks, overflowing garbage cans, etc. St-Laurent at 4am on a Saturday morning usually doesn’t look too pretty but by noon, it’s usually cleaned up. If the city was sparkling clean and sterilized to perfection which seems to be your standards, it would mean removing all the life from the city and then, what would be the point?

    I never said Montreal should be like Philadelphia. Why do you have to compare Montreal to other (cleaner?) cities or incessantly link to a random editorial in order to “prove” that Montreal isn’t clean? I live here too and I don’t see it (and neither does my roommate, a Latin American like your editorial writer, who laughed in disbelief at the idea that Montreal is anything like any city in Latin America).

  12. I might have been a little harsh in my previous posts, and I might be exaggerating a little, but I insist that there is room for improvement. There was this garbage monster (a strange formation of newspapers, wires, coffee cups and other unidentified pieces of garbage, just a few grams of dirt away from being alive) in my way from home to the university. It was there for about two months (warm months!) until I decided to pick it up and put it in the garbage can. How come in two months nobody else did that? It wasn’t that hard and I’m still alive. I think cleanliness crews in Montreal could do much better, and people too. I have decided to do my part and clean some blocks around my building once in a while. I wish more people would do that.

  13. I guess they don’t have garbage monsters on the McGill campus, but, then again, they have gates to keep out the hoi polloi.

  14. “Dump trucks”? Um, do you mean _garbage trucks_?

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