Cleaner streets and cleaner air thanks to the smart waste disposal container

1 July 2018

Man bij container

“Hi, I am almost full. Can someone please come and empty me?” Dozens of municipalities in the Netherlands are already using communicating waste disposal containers. The latest development is a navigation system that plans a shorter route for garbage collectors.

It all started in Groningen. In 2001, the city of Groningen introduced underground waste collection containers equipped with electronics that indicate the filling level. Every morning, the containers sent their data to the municipality via a mobile phone. This was highly advanced at the time, but technology has since made considerable progress. With all the possibilities we now have at our fingertips, Tim Blömer refers to this first solution using mobile phones as a makeshift solution. Tim Blömer is the director of Mic-O-Data, the technology company that offers wireless solutions for the remote reading of sensors.

Digital key

Sensors in modern waste disposal containers use the Internet of Things to communicate their status. They can also be used with residents’ cards. This card is like a digital key that gives local residents access to the container. In 2018, the city of Groningen is still a leader in terms of developments. This year, they fitted their garbage trucks with a navigation system that is in direct contact with the smart waste disposal containers. An algorithm calculates the most efficient route to all containers that need to be emptied. A further improvement Blömer mentioned, is that sensors are constantly becoming more advanced. “We can now check the density of the waste remotely. Sometimes a container may appear to be full, while there is in fact still room for more waste. This saves the municipality a collection run.”

Stubborn drivers

Technical solutions are great. But how long does it take for the garbage collectors to get used to the new way of waste collection? “This can take a couple of months”, says Blömer. “If you have been driving a fixed route for years, always stopping at the same place for a cup of coffee, it will take time to get used to a situation in which a navigation system tells you where to go. This was also the experience of a municipality that made the switch this year. Initially, some drivers stubbornly stuck to their own route”, he says with a smile.

The four main benefits of communicating waste disposal containers What is great about this type of IoT solution is that people ultimately benefit from it.

  1. Cleaner streets

Last year, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) asked Dutch citizens what kind of neighbourhood nuisance they would like to see resolved first. The two types of nuisance that scored highest nationwide were speeding and dog poo. However, Amsterdam and Rotterdam came up with different scores. ‘Litter in the streets’ came out as number one in these two cities. This is where smart waste disposal containers can make a huge difference. “Meanwhile, the prices of sensors continue to drop”, says Blömer. “The same applies to transmitting data. So, it won’t be long before it will be feasible to fit all urban waste bins with sensors. This will allow municipalities to address litter at the source.”

  1. Cleaner air

Rotterdam started using its first electric garbage truck in 2008. It was the first one in the Netherlands. Last year, Groningen was the first city in Europe to use a garbage truck running on hydrogen. But these are still exceptions. The majority of the fleet of garbage trucks in the Netherlands still runs on fossil fuels. This is bad for the climate and for public health. But in municipalities with smart waste disposal containers, garbage collectors only hit the road when it is really necessary. As a result, the collection departments need fewer trucks. This results in a reduction of carbon emissions and exhaust gasses, as well as cost savings.

  1. Opportunity to encourage recycling

The Dutch government wants it citizens to separate at least 75 percent of their waste by 2020. Of course, this won’t happen all by itself, so they could use some encouragement. Smart waste disposal containers with residents’ cards already offer the possibility to reward citizens who deposit recyclable materials in the correct containers. According to Blömer, the reason why this has not yet been widely implemented, is that municipalities worry about the possibility of fraud. “But when sensors become even more sensitive and if we develop even better algorithms, in the future we will no doubt be able to check what a person is depositing in the container.”

  1. Testing ground for other applications

Mic-O-Data also uses the principle of smart waste deposit containers in other industries, such as the construction industry. We have fitted all Beamix’ concrete trucks with sensors to make sure their concrete mortar arrives at the building site exactly on time. “The material is delivered, rather than collected. A different approach with attractive benefits”, Blömer concludes.