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Rubbish revolution

Technology is transforming the humble refuse bin into a tool for increased operational efficiency and cost savings, says Mark Jenkins, Sales Director at Egbert Taylor Group

The social value of the bin has considerably increased. It has transitioned from being a humble receptacle for waste to an integral component in increasing recycling rates and shaping urban environments.

For some, bins have become multifaceted communications devices, monitoring instruments and vehicles to boost a council’s sustainability credentials. For others, they’ve become tools to help reduce waste collection-related traffic. Crucially, bins represent ways in which local authorities can become more resource efficient, improve their waste collection strategies and deliver cleaner streets.

What, exactly, has changed? Technology. For many, technology in an environmental context is associated with trailblazers such as wind power firms and hydropower companies, paving the way for a sustainable future. Yet many perceive their solutions as costly and ahead of their time.

The technology currently available to local authorities is neither prohibitively costly nor untested. It is accessible, inexpensive and adding significant value to local authorities up and down the UK right now. And its inclusion into local authorities’ waste collection strategies could not be timelier.

A recent report by the Association for Public Service Excellence revealed that spending on neighbourhood services in England fell £3.1 billion (13 per cent) between 2010-11 and 2015-16. A Local Government Association report entitled ‘Evaluation of the waste and recycling programme’ points out that funding from central government to councils is reported to have been cut by 40 per cent during the era of the coalition government. Budgets are shrinking in tandem with the wider legislative context – one consequence of which is that local authorities are coming under pressure to send less waste to landfill and become greener.

The same report points out that UK councils spend around £853 million per year on waste collection. Clearly, minor percentage improvements could translate to huge financial savings for local government.

Take Bigbelly, for instance, which contains inbuilt solar-powered compaction technology that increases the unit’s capacity from 606 litres to 800 litres when full, and provides collection operatives with an up-to-the-minute overview of their collection route. If a Bigbelly smart station is only 10 per cent full, there’s little point in a waste collection team taking the time to empty it. Teams are notified when any bin is nearing 85 per cent fill capacity, ensuring it is emptied only when necessary. As a result, vehicle movements are minimised, making an area safer and cleaner, and the local authority’s waste collection costs are reduced.

If we compare where we are now with where we were a decade ago, then the level of flexibility afforded by technology such as Bigbelly is groundbreaking. It is also helping UK local authorities to micro-manage waste collection strategies.

Rugby Borough Council, for example, replaced 56 traditional bins with 23 Bigbelly smart stations. After only 12 months, the council reduced manual waste collections from 51,100 per year to only 1,509 per year – a saving of 49,591 collections.

There are also indirect benefits. In Rugby Council’s case, litter-picking on the main roads into the town centre was often neglected due to the time and cost required to send a crew out. Savings made through Bigbelly are reinvested in keeping the streets clear of litter.

Bigbelly has helped eliminate overfull bins in Rugby’s public spaces and children’s play areas without having to commit crews to make ad hoc and unplanned weekend collection trips. The system’s compaction technology buys time until the beginning of the working week by increasing the units’ capacity when full.

In Cheshire West and Chester Council, a total of 60 Bigbelly smart stations replaced 72 traditional bins at several locations throughout the borough during the summer of 2015. Since their installation the council has reduced its annual collections from 209,160 across 72 bins to 12,801 collections across 60 Bigbelly smart stations. City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council has also decided to extend Bigbelly’s on-street presence to 47 smart stations across Keighley, Bingley and areas within Bradford City Centre.

While Bigbelly represents an ideal solution for delivering clean streets in public spaces or in areas with high footfall, a like-for-like replacement of existing container fleets with fleets of Bigbelly smart stations may not always be the most economical approach. There are other options.

Egbert Taylor Group’s netBin, for example, is a web-based application that enables users to develop efficient waste collection routes and base resource decisions on data created through its inexpensive sensor technology. From individual containers’ fill level and location to their temperature and usage statistics, netBin provides full visibility over an entire fleet, regardless of the bin, container type or size. It can also play a key role in preventing misuse, reducing risks such as fires and ensuring that traditional bins never become overfull and are only emptied when full, increasing the efficiency of waste-handling fleets.

Clean streets are a basic right – but the responsibility should not fall solely on local authorities. Nor does it need to. Councils are now expected to achieve more for less, so any technology that improves operational efficiency and allows savings to be reinvested into frontline services is to be welcomed. Particularly if the cost is affordable and the payback period short.

About Sarah OBeirne

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