11-03-2022 | | By Robin Mitchell
A new smart bin scheme in South Tyneside will utilise sensor technologies to improve rubbish collection while simultaneously reducing the carbon footprint of waste collection. What challenges does current city infrastructure face, what will the new scheme do, and how does this demonstrate the power of smart technologies?
For most, it is easy to be oblivious to the infrastructure and organisation that goes into keeping society running, whether it is sewers, electricity, trains, and garbage collection. Of course, the moment any piece of critical infrastructure fails, almost everyone takes notice. Keeping society free from litter is one of these essential tasks, and maintaining clean streets is a function of the funds available to street cleaners and the attitudes held by the local population.
But not every bin is used the same while some bins may suddenly find themselves full, but treating all bins equally quickly leads to inefficient collection on budgets that may already be constrained. Furthermore, bins that fill up faster than expected will then contribute to local littering, which attracts vermin and other pests, which further spreads disease. As bins are nothing more than a box with a liner, the modern-day bin collection process is extraordinarily antiquated and inefficient.
A new scheme launched by DEFRA will be put in place in South Tyneside whereby 100 new bins will be installed, with 25 being smart in nature. The smart bins will integrate sensors that detect when the bin is full and message the local refuse office to arrange an immediate collection.
The use of sensors will not only allow refuse collectors to act on bins that need attention, but it will also reduce the number of journeys made by refuse collectors as they will only be focusing on full bins. This reduces the overall carbon emissions by eliminating unnecessary trips and will reduce the amount of litter found near full bins.
The need for smart bins in South Tyneside comes from the increased use of recreational areas such as seafronts and town centres after the covid pandemic of 2020. The collection of bin data also helps councillors understand areas of high traffic and determine the most efficient location for bins. An additional benefit to using smart bins is that litter reduction will also improve local marine life by eliminating the amount of plastic and metal that would typically drift into the ocean.
With modern technology, constructing a smart bin is a trivial task; a PIR sensor mounted to the topside of a bin would determine the current fill level, and a cellular IoT device can send a small packet of data to a remote server when the bin is full. Using a serial number on the bin allows for unique identification while a number of empty requests tell the council how busy that area is. Thus, the amount of information that can be inferred from something as simple as the number of times a bin gets full improves the efficiency of bin collection and gives insights into the surrounding area.
But it is not just bins that can be made smart. Sensor technology is already being integrated into a range of infrastructure, including storm drains to ensure that flooding doesn’t occur, traffic lights to make smarter traffic decisions, and even road sensors to determine where traffic buildups come from. As cities become more complex and budgets become more strained, technology can help make the cities of tomorrow efficient.