The town of Sollefteå is located 200 kilometres south of Umeå and just over 500 kilometres north of Stockholm. It is a small community of just over 20,000 inhabitants in the interior of Norrland County, surrounded by magnificent scenery including forests, mountains and water courses. 50 years ago, a technology was used for the first time and has since become one of Sweden’s most trend-setting environmental technology products - a technology applied in more than 30 countries that is still regarded as innovative.
On 4 October 1961, Sweden’s most modern hospital was inaugurated in Sollefteå. The hospital was designed for 328 patients and 328 staff. The kitchen staff alone consisted of 25 people. The building was constructed on nine floors above ground and three below ground. The total investment amounted to EUR 3.24 million, including staff accommodation. There was much that was new and modern in the hospital: there was to be TV in most of the wards and all patients would be able to listen to the radio.
Innovative ideas present new challenges for familiar technologies
The hospital was to have a central dust suction system supplied by a Stockholm company called Centralsug AB. At that time this central dust suction system was nothing new. It had already existed in many buildings and workplaces for several decades. However, it was entirely new to link waste management to the dust pipes. The project would become Europe’s largest dust suction system, with 500 suction valves and 6 kilometres of pipes in the walls, connected to a 400 mm waste suction system.
“It will be especially interesting to see how the central suction system will work,” hospital manager Thore Larsson said in an interview with a local newspaper when the hospital was inaugurated. “We know that in many respects it is extraordinarily effective, but we don’t know if it will be sustainable from a purely financial point of view.”
The best investment ever made by the hospital. At the end of last year, 49 years after this interview with hospital manager Larsson, it was time to replace the system’s fans. To justify the required investment, Vincent Måström, operating manager, calculated how much the hospital had saved on the waste suction system since its commissioning. He arrived at the conclusion that they had saved the cost of three part-time employees for nearly 50 years.
“It was the best investment the hospital ever made,” Måström explains with a smile. “The system has run like clockwork. Whilst it is true we have replaced certain parts, such as the control system, and recently a number of valves and fans, much of the original equipment remains in operation to this day.”
Local incineration of waste
Originally, the idea was to suck the dust and waste into an incineration plant in the hospital grounds. This was carried out until 1985, at which time the furnace was decommissioned. The small scale incineration of waste was no longer permitted and the oven lacked the required air cleaning technology. The remaining components from the inauguration include the cyclone, the piping system and the chutes. In 1985, the cyclone was connected to a waste container that was emptied by lorry once a week. In 1971, a new nursing home with 120 beds was also connected to the waste collection system.
Karl Göran Hammarberg, who started to work for the hospital back in 1974, knows the system like the back of his hand. “In principle, it has worked smoothly throughout. Occasionally there have been stoppages in the pipes and we have been forced to fish out mattresses, chairs and other things that do not belong there.”
On 12 October 2011, Sollefteå Hospital celebrated its 50th anniversary. If nothing else, the fact that we can also celebrate 50 years operation of the world’s first and oldest waste suction system demonstrates the sustainability of the technology.
Facts about Sollefteå Sjukhus
Type of system: C-system
Area of use: Hospital
Number of fractions: 1
Number of inlets: 7
Length of the pipe network: 500 meters
Type of waste: Hospital waste
Current load: 7 tonnes /week
The plant is equipped with outlets for central suction along the pipe system. However, these are not used today.