Smart bins provide data for councils and businesses to maximise efficiencies and improve public health. They could also be one of the keys to building a smart city. William Arnott reports.
Data is one of the building blocks that make a smart city. From real-time information on the next available bus, to tools to improve response times to emergencies, smart cities have the potential to revolutionise the provision of public services. Finding ways of capturing and broadcasting information is the first step to create an interconnected city.
Bristol is one example of such innovation. Through its Bristol is Open project, the south-west English city has developed a network of fibre in the ground and a wireless network which incorporates Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G and 5G, combined with a radio frequency mesh network of 2000 of the city’s lampposts. This allows for thousands of real-time data applications in sectors such as health, education, local government and other businesses.
But what exactly is a smart city? Some expert organisations, including the UK Government in 2013, have acknowledged there is no absolute definition. According to a background paper by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, the concept is static, there is no end point. It is rather a process, or a series of steps, in which cities become more “liveable” through modern digital infrastructure.
Consultancy firm Adelaide Smart City Studio defines a smart city by its use of “technology and data to drive economic activity, accelerate innovation and better manage energy, resources and services”. It says collecting, analysing and intelligently using data is central to the concept of a smart city. According to its website, the Internet of Things is the next logical step in the internet revolution, allowing everyday objects – appliances, cars and city infrastructure – to be connected to computer networks.
Public utilities with sensors and connective abilities can provide a way of finding out how and where infrastructure is being used. With information from smart furniture, city planners and councils are able to optimise how they design and operate essential services and infrastructure.
For example, a network of streetlights could automatically turn themselves on and off when required to save energy. Park benches could detect when they haven’t been sat on for extended periods of time, which can tell councils if infrastructure is being unused.Smart rubbish bins can send out alerts when they are 80 per cent full to give collection teams a better understanding of where they need to travel.
To gather evidence on how smart cities can benefit social health through improved public spaces, researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) are collaborating with Street Furniture Australia and Sydney’s Georges River Council. Through this, they will investigate the long-term effects of sensor-based smart furniture.
The grant project is funded through the federal government’s Smart Cities and Suburbs Program and is entitled Smart Social Spaces: Smart Street Furniture Supporting Social Health.
The research team will analyse data from smart infrastructure installed within Sydney’s Georges River Council over six months and analyse how effectively the council can use the technology. Dr Nancy Marshall, Senior Lecturer in City Planning at UNSW, says the team has already been collecting data manually to compare the difference in results.
SMART BIN POTENTIAL
Nancy says the project aims to ensure cities and governments are able to get the best use out of high quality spaces by being smarter with their resources. UNSW is targeting infrastructure such as park benches, seats, tables, outdoor barbeques, lights, and most importantly for the waste industry – bins.
“With bins, there’s already a significant amount of technology available. Sensors inside bins are able to detect how full it is, letting garbage contractors know when they need to pick it up. It can also be fitted with a heat sensor to alert emergency services in case of a fire,” she says.
“This means that if someone was to throw out a lit cigarette butt, the bin would be able to automatically inform the correct people about a possible fire.”
Nancy says that by collecting data and taking an evidence-based approach, UNSW will be able to provide councils with information to support their decision making.
“The sensors inside the bin aren’t obvious to the outside, as they are encased inside. I’ve been told that they use less power than a watch and can help to get users engaged with the technology.
“Because they provide councils with information in real time, they’re able to route their waste collections more efficiently and stop issues like bins overflowing. With that long-term data, they can assess whether an area needs more or less bins, whether they need to be moved and the behaviours of waste generators.”
Bins are also able to be outfitted with solar panels to power other helpful, and potentially lifesaving, abilities.
“Smart bins have the capability of making public announcements. For example, they would be able to alert people nearby to evacuate a plaza and all kinds of public service announcements.”
Street Furniture Australia is coating the smart bins with a teflon paint that is largely graffiti-proof – to improve area aesthetics and reduce council clean-up costs.
Nancy says this technology can also be used in regional areas and is ideal for farmers.
“Drone technology is already being used in some areas, while sensors are able to check water tanks which could be kilometres away. It saves property owners time and money, and the speed of data available is incredible.”
Nancy and the team’s research into smart sensors aims to have flow-on health benefits and pleasing aesthetics for urban areas.
“There’s nothing more unappealing than a bin that’s overloaded with garbage. They’re messy, they can attract wildlife and are unhealthy. Solar compacting bins can help deal with these issues, which is critical in dense areas,” she says.
“Successful governments and businesses will need to be nimble and open to seeing the benefits of smart infrastructure.”
SMART BINS IN VICTORIA
Victoria’s Wyndham City Council has invested in a trial of smart bins across the growing region. It installed 16 bins as a test to gather data and see if they would be a good fit for the council.
Tessa O’Brien, Waste Education Officer at Wyndham City Council, says the data has been useful to boost the efficiency of waste collection, with information available 24/7, including reports on an individual bin’s performance.
The bins are able to hold more than five times the capacity of a standard 120-litre bin thanks to its compaction capabilities. Its solar panels generate energy to compress the waste and are equipped with sensors which provide data that can be accessed via a dashboard and through mobile apps that can notify the collection staff.
“We’ve set up these smart bins in high traffic areas to gain the best performance and education outcome. We were collecting the original street bins every one to two days. Now, we’re collecting these smart bins on average only five to six times a month. That’s a big reduction in pick up demand.
“We’re able to see exactly how full each bin is and time our collections accordingly. One bin has been placed in an awkward and lower traffic spot, where we had been visiting once every couple of days on the usual round – now it’s once every 15 days,” Tessa says.
Tessa says reports of street litter have been reduced, particularly around the local government area’s train station, where there was often an issue of overflowing bins.
“We haven’t had the issue of overflowing bins since we installed them. We wouldn’t be able to know beforehand there’s a problem unless the community informed us, or there had been an event on with staff around. Now, instead of relying on our litter crews to perform visual checks, we have up to date data on bin performance all the time.”
Wyndham City Council’s goal is to divert 90 per cent of waste from landfill by 2040. Tessa says that to accomplish this, the council needed to innovate and take advantage of the new technology.
The City of Wyndham’s population is growing and saw the second largest percentage increase in population in Victoria between 2011 and 2016, with 55,000 new residents arriving in five years, according to the council’s website.
“We had a great education opportunity to get the community involved and show off the new bins. They are bright and engaging. We’ve had particularly positive feedback from the community, who are really happy with them,” Tessa says.
“Our solar bins have also been accompanied by a significant increase in street recycling bins within the municipality, as we had a key goal to increase public recycling services.”
Tessa says the collection process has become simplified. She says they’re functioning well and still look brand new. She says that they are serviced annually through council’s contract and under warranty for five years.
SOLAR BINS IN AUSTRALIA
Leon Hayes, Managing Director and Founder of Solar Bins Australia and Smartsensor Australia, says smart bins have a lifespan that provides councils and businesses a much higher return on investment than standard bins.
“When you take into account the efficiency benefits that come from the bins over the lifespan, it significantly outweighs the initial cost.
“A traditional stainless-steel bin generally lasts around five to 10 years, but it doesn’t provide anything further,” Leon says.
“A smart bin provides data to the customer over time, saving them anywhere from $30 to $50 a week per bin in operational savings alone. We’re seeing councils make a return on investment easily within two years of purchase when compared with a standard bin.”
Leon says this type of smart technology is the future, adding that he estimates $2.3 billion will be invested in this technology by 2022.
“Australia has a real opportunity to be a pioneer in adopting it. Over the next five years, I estimate a vast majority of bin manufacturers will be creating smart bins,” he says.
“Solar-powered bins have come a long way since they were first introduced. They’re now self-sustaining hubs with Wi-Fi and can power small cell networks. They’re an integral part of activity in urban centres and connect to a network of waste data collection points.”
He says that data is the foundation of a smart city and provides insight for planners to make decisions quicker and provide a greater financial benefit.
Leon explains that interoperability, which means the collusion of datasets and financially driven capabilities, allow cities to take what is already being done and engage with technology to remove hindrances.
He says connectivity of other data can reveal more about the city than just waste habits and provides a direct reflection of a city’s operational efficiency.
“We have the data from waste users to analyse what happened on any given day. It allows us to plan properly for events, and even predict where issues may occur in future and put measures in place prior to it occurring.”
“Replacing power poles, updating street parking and other smart infrastructure can be invasive to install, whereas bins or sensors can be set up in minutes.
“When governments and councils begin seeing the data, they’re able to consolidate different types of smart technology with the information they already have learned.
“Smart waste sensors are able to begin capturing data about the community and any changes it may be undergoing at a low cost.”
Leon says that councils are able to be more efficient with their waste collections, which can ultimately go towards saving the ratepayer money, with Solar Bins Australia saving businesses and governments anywhere from 40 to 80 per cent on their collection activities.
“By optimising for the future, you can reduce carbon emissions from trucks, as well as reduce the amount of times you need to send vehicles out to harder to reach areas,” he says.
Hume City Council has seen the benefits of Solar Bins in action, installing them last year. Sean Sciberras, Waste Manager for Hume City Council, says waste collections have reduced by 60 per cent.
“As the population in the area grew, there was a need for more services and collections.
“The bins have provided a cost-effective way of managing that increased demand,” Sean says.
“They’ve gone into a mixture of high and low traffic areas, and in particular, in areas where there was a lot of litter that regular bins didn’t have the capacity to handle.”
Hume City Council took advantage of its bin rollout to visit schools and engage the community, holding art competitions for designs on the bins.
“The community has really embraced the bins, and we’re able to service more areas now that we’re collecting waste more efficiently.”
Solar smart bins use as much energy as a Christmas tree lightbulb, and are able to function in shaded areas 24-hours a day. They’re also able to function indoors, powered by 240 volts, usually in airports or shopping centres. Neither model is energy intensive and they can use the power they generate for Wi-Fi, traffic management, or even people counting.