So as the picture at the end of last blog post showed, I found a very strange bin with solar panels a couple of days ago. It is in Midsummer Common, where I usually ride through to get home from class but I took a slightly different route on this occasion. The bin is from a company called Big Belly Solar. The benefits on the company’s website are listed below and it makes the claim of being the smart grid for waste and recycling.
So why am I mentioning it in this post? Well it is local and interesting for one, but it also has a significant benefit in terms of reducing the number of times that city council bins need to be emptied because of the ability of the bin to compact rubbish. And that means less environmental impact from rubbish trucks and similar. But even better than that, it takes the guesswork out of the rubbish collection game. Regular bins need either to be ‘over collected’ which is to pick up the rubbish earlier than it may be expected to become full (in order to ensure that no one bin will be overflowing) or under collected to conserve rubbish collection costs to make sure that the truck is full every time it does a collection round (at the risk of upsetting some park users or subway patrons because of overflowing bins).
Big Belly Solar has sensors to wirelessly let the municipality in charge of emptying them know when the bin needs to be cleared of waste. There are multiple case studies on the website of towns and cities that have begun to implement this system, with Salzburg recording a 1/8th frequency of collection in the downtown areas from 4 times daily to every second day, which allows the region to spend much more of its money on fixing other council infrastructure such as footpaths and water leaks rather than keeping up the constant flow of rubbish collection vehicles.
The picture I took was in the very corner of midsummer common, where the utilisation of the park is somewhat lower than I’d expect elsewhere. This probably is a good test bed for the technology as it is furthest from other bins and hence the collection trips here are probably least worthwhile in terms of the amount of rubbish collected compared to distance traveled to the bin.
From what I can find online the bins were first trialled in Cambridge City Council in 2011 (at the time the first trial of this technology in Britain). The Midsummer common bins are not mentioned on the sources I have looked at which suggests that they have been generally very successful if there has been an expansion of the network. I think it’s a great initiative and one with really quite significant benefits if deployed across a wider region due to the greatly decreased transportation requirements of the rubbish trucks.
Whilst currently deployed at the community scale, perhaps it is not so long before such technology can be used in rubbish collection at a household scale too. This would require more directed rubbish truck trips however as currently the utilisation level of these rubbish trucks is significantly higher than that for municipality collection (the trucks keep driving until they are full – and these trucks have had compaction facilities almost universally for many years).