Waste disposal in the household - recycling systems for everyone

This report, by the architects Erik & Tina Bahn, describes a project their architectural firm carried out for the Danish Building Development Board. The project was to develop and test recycling systems for waste disposal in the home which were as user-friendly and usable for as large a group of the population as possible. In: "Report of the Fourth International Expert Seminar on Building Non-Handicapping Environments: Access Legislation and Design Solutions Budapest, Hungary, September 2-4, 1991" (PDF, 480 KB). Internet publication URL: www.independentliving.org/cib/cibbudapest3.html. In Internet publication URLs: www.independentliving.org/cib/cibbudapest1.html and www.independentliving.org/cib/cibbudapest.pdf.

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Report of the CIB Expert Seminar on Building Non-Handicapping Environments, Budapest 1991


Waste disposal in the household - recycling systems for everyone

Erik & Tina Bahn, Arkitekterne Bahn, Danish Building Development Board, Denmark

Sorting of garbage in trash chutes

When you are used to throwing your waste away through a hole in the wall, it can be difficult to be motivated to sort the valuable part of the rubbish and carry it a bit further in order to place it in a container. But now a new Danish sorting-system has been developed to divide the trash already at the garbage disposal chute. The plant is designed to sort four kinds of waste; other categories can be added. This is how the system is used:

    • The system will always show the position "Residual rubbish".
    • By depressing the button indicating "Compost", "Glass" or "Newspapers" the desired category is obtained.
    • The green light at "Residual rubbish" goes off immediately when another category light is pressed. After about five seconds, the green light for the desired category goes on. Thus any residual waste already thrown down will have time to arrive at the correct container.
    • When the green light is on for the chosen category the chute can again be used. Garbage may only be deposited when the green light is on.
    • After about ten seconds, the system will again return to the normal position "Residual rubbish"
    • A yellow light indicates that the system is being emptied and therefore cannot be used.
    • A red light indicates an error in the system. This can be due to jamming, for example. When the error has been repaired, the system is turned on by pressing the button "Reset" for about three seconds.


The research project includes development and testing of recycling systems for waste disposal which is user-friendly and usable for as large a group of the population as possible, and which can be installed in an existing or new kitchen without economically-demanding changes or additions. The Building Development Council has supported the project and issued a paper with a description of the problems of the housing project and its inhabitants (tenants), the conditions, documentation, and conclusion of recycling in multi-story housing and perspective. A leading consideration in the project has been to enable tenants to contribute oneself and take part in the daily activities. The arrangement and accessories of the home have to be adapted for the various abilities the residents have during the years. The research has taken place in existing standard kitchens containing very little space.

The site

Rådhusdammen was chosen as an actual site because of the complex's present waste disposal system's unsatisfactory performance for those of the residents who are disabled, and because of Rådhusdammen's typical low-density housing configuration. Rådhusdammen consists of 96 apartments, 34 of which are on the ground floor and are well suited for people with disabilities. Rådhusdammen was built during 1979-1980.

The preconditions

The legislation and the exiting environmental and waste disposal systems have been important factors for the project. The starting point for the development of new recycling waste disposal systems in households has been that the actual solutions must fit in a larger context around reuse of waste disposal, (i.e., municipal garbage collection). The project has illuminated the problems and the needs around recycling waste disposal for the residents in the household and in the two sheds placed in the courtyards.

Methods for the development phase

The work method has been a combination of rough drafts/drawings and testing of models and prototypes executed by the architects Bahn MMI and MAA. The prototypes have been tested along the way by the Råddammen residents, who have participated during all the project's phases through residents' meetings. In August 1990 the project took part in Albertslund's municipal environmental exhibition. The exhibition's spectators showed considerable interest in the waste management problem.


The following are suggested improvements concerning accessibility and lighting in the housing complex's two garbage storage:

    • ventilation against odors,
    • automatic doors,
    • glass door and lighting.

The existing containers were given smaller lids which are much easier to handle:

    • container with lid on the side,
    • container with a smaller lid, mounted on the existing container lid,
    • container with a sliding lid, mounted on the existing container lid.

The containers are to be painted in appropriate colors and given symbols indicating their content. Easily recognizable signs and touch-typing are to be applied. In the small standard kitchen the following ideas have been tested:

    • garbage wagon on wheels containing four compartments,
    • "pull-out" cupboard, mounted under the kitchen table in the "dead corner",
    • "swing-out" cupboard, mounted under the table in the "dead corner",
    • "pull-out" plate, mounted on the top and bottom of the kitchen cupboard.

Disposal through a chute in the kitchen table with a direct connection to the personal recycling waste disposal container has been tested. The container needs to be pulled out only when emptying is needed.


The research project has shown, that it is impossible to produce one complete solution which satisfies all users' needs. Several systems have been developed, each consisting of a standard basic module, having room for minimum two compartments for compost and residue waste. Buckets or bags and cleaning devices can be added. Glass and paper containers are stored either in the systems or elsewhere in the house. At the end of the research project the systems have shown to be usable, however in no way fully developed and refined. Testing has shown that further refining of details is necessary.

In the near future, all households have to take part in some form of organized recycling waste disposal system. Therefore it is of importance to have developed several sorting systems which can be installed in existing standard kitchens without large alterations causing economic burdens.

The research project has been developed with support from BUR. The project has been elaborated by Arkitekterne Bahn, Holbæk and Nelleman A/S, København.

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