Zero Waste Floating Cities

The Center for Zero Waste Design worked with Oceanix, Bjarke Ingels Group, Transsolar, Mobility in Chain, Sherwood Design Engineers and MIT Ocean Engineering on the concept for Floating Cities presented at the UN on April 3rd. See below for the presentation to the UN.

The core challenges to achieving zero waste on the Floating City are to manage food waste easily, eliminate single use packaging and incorporate circular economy strategies.

By controlling the materials coming onto the island, designing systems for reusable packaging and sharing of durable goods, and tracking any waste produced, the waste stream can be dramatically reduced. We estimated a 90% reduction of most types of waste and a 30% reduction in food waste compared to that generated by the average New Yorker.

Waste Kit of Parts

Food waste will be converted to energy in the anaerobic digesters and to compost in community gardens. Reusable containers and textiles are washed in the washing center. Personal items are leased from stores or borrowed from the exchange hub, which also includes a maker center for fixing and making things, and a sorting center to track all items that can’t be reused. Sewage will be treated in algae ponds and greywater in treatment swales.

Reusable packaging

Bulk goods and locally grown and processed food, are all packaged in reusable containers. Restaurants and food stalls use a similar system of reusable take out containers – could be a metal tiffin box like those used by dabbawalas in India – which are being rediscovered by startups promoting reusables. 

Food Waste

Food waste is weighed before disposal, this practice leads restaurants to order more accurately, reducing waste by over 35%. Instead of being stored and carted in bins where it can produce odors and attract vermin, it is moved with a small pneumatic tube directly to a small anaerobic digester, which creates heat and power.

The power goes into the electricity grid and the heat warms the water to wash the reusable packaging and dishware.

Food waste from homes, landscaping and farming goes to the compost gardens, to make soil and grow food in the community gardens.

Low impact transport

Floating islands have no need for garbage trucks – bulky or fragile items can be transported by cargo bike and anything else–spent batteries, worn clothes, or broken toys, get put in a reusable bag with an ID tag to identify the material and source, and is conveyed by pneumatic tube to the sorting center.

Sorting Center

Here residual materials are metered – like water or electricity – and sorted to facilitate repair, reuse or refabrication. With data, over time, strategies can be tweaked to reduce waste further and applied as evidence-based solutions to other cities.

Exchange Hub

Floating cities will welcome circular economy businesses and help develop community collectives for fixing and repair. Libraries won’t just be for books, but anything from a drill to a guitar. Consumer goods, such as a computer or a child’s high chair will be leased rather than owned, and returned to the store when maintenance or an upgrade is needed. 

Makers Hub

Goods, furniture and buildings will all be designed for disassembly, so at end of life they can be repurposed into something new by the next generation of floating city designers.