Waste bins are getting smart

Many cities have already fitted out their waste bins with sensors and connectivity. They signal when they are full. This means refuse collection vehicles can optimise their routes to collect from only the containers that actually need emptying.

Global waste production is set to increase by almost 50 percent over the next decade. This will entail enormous disposal costs. In smart cities, those costs will be reduced by measures including fitting out waste bins with level sensors and connectivity. This will enable them to automatically signal when they are full, and so cut the cost of emptying them.

Level sensors plus Cloud platform

It may seem fantastical, but it has already been turned into reality as part of the Smart City project in Barcelona. Waste containers provided by Limburg-based company MOBA Mobile Automation automatically transmit signals indicating that they are full and need emptying. A robust ultrasound sensor built into the lid of the container measures the level inside regardless of the contents. The signals are sent over the mobile phone network to a web-based software application operated by the waste management company. The software visualises the container levels based on a traffic light system, enabling the company to plan its collection routes optimally; so its vehicles only visit the containers that actually need emptying. Measurements and sensor data are transmitted over the mobile phone network onto the Cloud at regular intervals. The level sensor is equipped with a SIM card for the purpose. The advantage of this is that existing telecoms networks can be used to transfer the data.
A similar system is offered by Smartbin. However, the sensors which the Irish company installs on waste containers not only measure their levels but also transmit temperature and geo-positioning data to a software platform. “It is above all the level data that helps companies make big savings on collection costs.” Waste management companies no longer have to travel from container to container, as Brendan Walsh, CEO at Smartbin, goes on to explain: “Thanks to integrated route planning systems, customers in 25 countries have optimised their container emptying by focusing solely on containers that are actually full.”

Communications network for the smart city

According to Finnish company Enevo, this makes it possible to save up to 50 percent on costs. It, too, uses smart level sensors, Cloud computing solutions, state-of-the-art analysis and dynamic capacity and route planning to deliver the most cost-effective waste management plans for entire cities. “Enevo’s customers need a cost-effective, stable and operationally efficient wireless communications network in order to support this mission-critical application. Enevo’s CTO Pirkka Palomak comments: “LoRaWAN networks offer good service quality, cover large areas, support large numbers of devices, and at the same time permit very good energy efficiency for battery-powered wireless sensors such as those from Enevo.” The LoRaWAN (Low Power Wide Area Network) protocol was developed by the LoRa Alliance specially for wireless battery-powered objects connected to the Internet of Things. The LoRa solution enables millions of objects to be connected over the open broadcast network at low cost. The technology facilitates long-range communications with a high degree of resistance to interference, while at the same time minimising power consumption. The system is thus particularly well suited to applications in smart cities – and not just for waste management.

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