Guest Blog | BIR Net - Underground Waste Handling in Medieval City Centre, Bergen

Struggling to improve the waste handling in the medieval city centre of Bergen, the city decided in 2008 to install an underground suction system. Toralf Igesund, Head of Planning, BIR, Bergen, Norway, writes a guest blog about how BIR Net constructs and operates the system with technology from Envac.

23 Apr 2018 -

I have earlier shared some thoughts in this blog about how social changes influenced the amount and content of waste generated in my hometown Bergen, Norway. 


This time I focus on the problems related in particular to garbage disposal and collection in a medieval city centre with narrow cobblestone streets, wooden houses and busy commerce and traffic. The old dock, Bryggen, is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.


The city centre was designed in a time of little waste, no cars and less people than today, and we faced many problems when trying to upgrade our waste handling. There is little space available for traditional wastebins, which are lined up along the walls of wooden houses, and if there was a fire the result could be a much feared city fire.


The inter-municipal waste company BIR covers 9 municipalities including Bergen, and the ambition is to give all households equal service.  As our services developed with waste separation and pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) fees were introduced, the service in the medieval Centre of Bergen was lagging. Many households could only find space for one small 60L bin, which was emptied twice a week. It was hard to find space for larger bins, overfilled bins attracted pests like rats, it smelled in the summer and it was generally difficult to find space for more waste separation in the city centre. Around the year 2000 a discussion started on how to bring this part of Bergen to the same service level as the rest of BIRs districts. In 2008, after years of reports and visits to other cities, the city parliament of Bergen decided that an underground suction system should be installed. The underground infrastructure should cover the need for both household and commercial waste. 


This video was prepared for the households to prepare for the coming underground waste service.



Installing underground infrastructure in any city is difficult and expensive. In the narrow Bergen medieval city environment this has been solved through the close cooperation with all relevant utilities. Graveklubben – «The utility club» has made it possible to renovate water- and sewer pipes, cables and install district heating and waste collection pipes, and finally upgrade streets, pavements and public places. 

The result

There are many cities with a medieval city centre, and Bergen is not the first city to install a pneumatic system. I have described in another blogpost how the waste company BIR make use of sensors and PAYT fees to increase recycling. 

  • A special feature of BIR Net is the integration with the PAYT fee, so households in the city are given same incentives as other households with their own waste bins. All customers are identified before they open the inlet. Fee is generated according to the amount of residual waste, while recyclables are “free”.
  • «Bergen Line» is a universal design for a range of inlets: residual waste (and eventually food-waste), paper and plastic. Less common inlets: cardboard, and glass/metal packaging underground container (not connected to the vacuum system). There is also a self emptying litter-bin.
  • Waste and paper inlets are designed to allow both households (35L bags) and commercial customers (100L bags). 

Some experience

The first pipe was laid down in 2008 and BIR Net officially opened in October 2016. BIR Net has since grown steadily and now serves 5000 households and a number of commercial customers. BIR Net has been running without down-time and customer surveys express very high satisfaction with the service.



Envac was chosen to deliver the inlets, pipes and terminal building, and is responsible for running and maintaining the system for a minimum of 10 years. Visit this page to learn more about the technology behind this project.


BIR Net has been awarded several prizes, among them the prestigious Energy Globe Award and has had a lot of visitors from all over the world. The new system has drawn attention from both national and international TV stations.

Want to see the system for yourself?  Visit Bergen!


Envac has made a video describing how BIR Net works and city representatives and users share their experiences with the system. 


Picture 1, from the top: This fire started in a wastebin next to the house. A man was later charged with arson.

Picture 4: Left: Special Fire Hazard areas in Bergen.  Right: Plan for BIR Net in three stages. Blue stage is running since 2015, green is under construction, while red is in initial planning phase.



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