East Waste’s CEO, Adam Faulkner, explains how his team has successfully implemented tracking solutions for the authority’s waste collection fleet.
When George Orwell wrote his novel 1984 and shared the idea that “Big Brother is watching you”, one cannot imagine that he had bin monitoring in mind for this all-seeing eye. More than 60 years on, one waste authority leader generated “Bin Brother” headlines when launching tracking technology across its collection services.
Adam Faulkner first came across global positioning system (GPS) and radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology for garbage collections while working at Tweed Shire Council, New South Wales. After taking the role as Coordinator – Waste Management in 2005, he oversaw the planning and roll out of the technology to household bins across its area.
RFID involves the use of wireless technology on chips or tags that can be attached to an object to store and transfer data. In waste collection services, chips are attached to bins and a scanner on the garbage truck reads them. It can identify the household they belong to and details around time of collection, and, in this case, weight of contents can be relayed to a depot for customer service enquiries.
The use of GPS technology in waste services includes: tracking vehicles for service delivery and employee safety factors, assessing and improving the efficiency of routes, reviewing time spent providing the service, and monitoring driver behaviour.
“The use of RFID in waste collection was reasonably new back then [in 2009] and we probably bit off more than we could chew,” admits Adam, reflecting upon his first experience introducing the technology.
Tweed Shire Council residents didn’t seem to understand the reasons for using the technology, especially on the bin weighing aspect, as the council was among the earliest adopters. Their pessimistic views were highlighted in local media coverage.
“This led to a few negative ‘Big Bin Brother’ headlines about the service,” says Adam. “We learnt some lessons there and eventually had some good conversations with our community that we should have done at the start.”
For anyone else looking to implement the technology, he recommends engaging with residents and stakeholders to explain that implementation of any tracking technology is part of an overall strategy.
Other than public relations, the council had a few other problems from the start with using the technology and how it was rolled out.
“We tried to introduce everything at once: bin weighing, RFID and GPS,” Adam explains. “But the technology wasn’t quite there. So we had problems getting accurate and timely data.”
Through this experience, Adam learnt that clearly identifying objectives for using GPS or RFID technology will help businesses get the most out of it. These aims can include: asset management, enabling better customer service, improving collection route efficiency, and monitoring driver behaviour.
“Just be clear what you want it for,” says Adam. “Is it to address one element or a whole contract management purpose? You pay for different complexities of systems and solutions. We thought we wanted an all-system solution, but we didn’t need all of what we asked for.”
The Second Time Around
Six years later, Adam used these lessons to lead the introduction of the technology for the Eastern Waste Management Authority – known as East Waste.
Having dealt with those challenges the first time around, Adam’s experience of implementing a single RFID and GPS solution for waste collection services in South Australia has been smoother.
East Waste looks after waste collections for six councils around Adelaide. When Adam joined as CEO in February 2014, the authority was already using two GPS systems, introduced in 2011, and an RFID system, which was used by one council.
As five of the councils used GPS, East Waste needed a standard system that was reliable and user friendly for its drivers and customer service team.
The authority undertook a competitive tender process to choose one provider, concentrating on price, capability, service provision and usability.
“The usability factor was really important for us,” says Adam. “There was no point having this solution, then our drivers and customer service team not using it or believing in it.”
East Waste eventually chose Queensland-based 3Logix in late 2014. They have been working together ever since to roll out a complete fleet solution.
“3Logix had the best solution for us. Their technical ability is unquestioned, but they also have a common sense approach; they explain things simply and clearly. They understand a business’s issues. Instead of trying to bolt on an off-the-shelf solution, they tailor it to give you the best outcome. Being a relatively small operation, with only 37 trucks, that was important for us,” says Adam.
After allocating the project to 3Logix, Adam and his team worked to realign the technology against its service objectives. They recently finalised a whole-of-fleet GPS solution to work alongside RFID for the new financial year.
“We knew exactly what we wanted the technology for and the system is working really well,” Adam says. “That’s a lot to do with a consistent, clear vision.”
East Waste went through an exercise of moving its processes to one system, communicating the plans with its councils and residents.
“Communicating the use of this technology to stakeholders was really easy this time because GPS is more a part of our lives,” says Adam. “There’s a greater acceptance that it helps us to be more efficient, safe and reduce our overall costs.”
The authority also needed to engage its employees to teach them about the value of the technology with regard to safety, reputation management and job efficiency.
“The technology contributes to a safe workplace in several ways,” explains Adam. “We can track where the drivers are, where they’ve been and help them avoid spots that are difficult to access. Having data around speed of travel, acceleration and excessive braking means we can intervene and improve behaviour where necessary, improving operational safety.”
The solution also has a lone worker device, which is linked to GPS. If a driver is in a remote location without a mobile phone signal, they can trigger the device to inform the depot where they are and if they’re in distress. In addition, the technology helps the customer service team handle complaints, protecting the public view of the service.
“We can deal with claims about not collecting a bin or damage to property because we know where the trucks have been and at what time,” says Adam. “And with RFID, we can record footage as we go. Having this evidence means we can manage our reputation and changes the conversations you can have with residents and councils, making them more mature.”
East Waste has also noticed the benefits of GPS technology in areas they didn’t expect. For instance, they receive automatic reminders for truck maintenance and can manage driver fatigue by monitoring truck hours.
The RFID kit has helped East Waste by allowing the authority to get more detailed information. With RFID, the chip in each bin is read when it’s lifted by the truck. This allocates a date and time stamp for that event. The driver can then choose to provide extra information if needed, such as noting if a bin is broken. Those details are sent remotely to customer service with a photo, ready in case the resident calls with a query.
The solution also includes cameras on the trucks, so drivers can watch footage of bins being emptied. If they see contamination in a recycling bin, they can record what they saw and log a “service exception” – an explanation of why the bin was not emptied. This information is then made available to customer service.
“They can also record along an entire street or suburb, to build up a profile of that area,” adds Adam. “So if we notice a trend in behaviour, we can go back and do some education about recycling there.”
For other councils or organisations considering investing in GPS and RFID for waste collection services, Adam emphasises that the most important thing is to define what you’re trying to fix or improve.
“If you’re going to implement this technology, you have two opportunities to get it right: at contract commencement or when you roll out your bins,” he says.
He advises organisations to build the use of the technology into a broader asset management or waste management strategy. This will provide a solution that will work.
“Talk to other councils or industry experts about their experiences and you’ll more likely land on a good outcome,” says Adam. “But if you get distracted by the bells and whistles, you’re potentially not going to get a good result.”
Enabling a New Charging Approach
The close location of East Waste’s clients, coupled with its use of technology, has led to an innovative approach in operating and charging for its collection services. As it services six adjoining council areas, its trucks can cross boundaries on collection routes.
“As long as we’re in the geo-fence of the six areas, we can use a common fleet across all six councils. This leads to greater efficiencies in service because we can use the most efficient routes, instead of trucks having to go back on themselves or avoid certain streets,” says Adam.
East Waste also adopted a new way of using GPS data to charge its clients for their waste collection services – by time spent on their service.
Adam explains: “How East Waste operates is unique. First, we are a not-for-profit, which differentiates us from commercial waste providers. However, we have all the typical costs that a waste collection operator has. Instead of building those costs into a lift rate, which is how most commercial contracts agreements are built, we split the costs across all six councils based on the time it takes to deliver their service, calculated through the GPS system – a ground-breaking costing method based on GPS time.”
The member councils drove this approach for the costing methodology, as they could see it was fair and transparent. The reliable and robust technology underpins the administration process.
“In terms of measurables, we have certain KPIs. We still measure lifts per hour and truck hours,” says Adam. “But thanks to what we can track, we know that we have a unique statistic of 95 per cent of bins back on the kerb with lids closed – this differentiates us from a lot of other providers.”
The Future of Waste Collection Services
Given Adam’s in-depth experience with technology at East Waste and Tweed Shire Council, he has come to appreciate the opportunities it offers for analysis and informing future strategy. He says that the next big thing in waste collection services will be ‘incentivising’ – offering benefits to people who use their collection bins correctly.
Adam believes that using the data obtained in delivering the service will help councils create educational campaigns that encourage residents to improve their recycling behaviour.
“Sometimes poor recycling or use of bins is down to a lack of knowledge or appetite,” says Adam. “We can analyse down to the street and household level through our data, which means spend on education and promotion can be more targeted. Councils can then offer incentives to households who maximise their recycling and reduce their waste.”
East Waste’s next step is working with its member councils to plan and deliver the waste education and incentivisation component.