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From Ireland to Italy to Iran, waste & recycling technology professionals have seen a noticeable rise in interest in bin sensor technology. The Recycling & Waste Materials show in the UK and IFAT in Munich have an increasing number of technology companies pushing this latest ‘craze’. So what is it about bin sensors that makes it the ‘next big thing’?
There has been an increase in the number of companies developing this technology in recent years making it reliable and more cost effective. The technology itself centres on ultrasonic sensors fitted to the top of the container. They work by transmitting an ultrasonic pulse of pressurized air to the surface of the material. The pulse reflects off the material and returns to the sensor in the form of an echo that is received by a microphone. One of the key developments in recent years is ability of these sensors to eradicate ‘false echoes’ making the ‘reads’ more accurate and reliable. The technology is provided with GSM based technology so that the fill level is communicated to a central hub for onward processing.
The Operational Need
Using street bins as an example, ‘old fashioned’ operational methods for emptying is to have a bin on a pre-planned route that is driven on a frequency basis – daily, twice weekly, weekly, etc. These plans are often created using GIS based route optimisation software that has the functionality to plan frequencies over time (not all route optimisation software can do ‘the over time’ bit). Typically, waste collectors have various pre-planned routes based on seasons, or holidays. For example, a seaside tourist town might increase the frequency of street bin emptying near a beach during peak summer and bank holiday weekends. A forward thinking organisation may monitor the fill level of each bin, recording it and feeding the data back to the route planners who adjust the routes accordingly making them as efficient as possible.
The argument against such methodology concentrates on the level of inherent inefficiency within the route as the vehicles visits every bin regardless of whether it needs emptying or not. In response, the bin sensor proposition is that by providing the fill level data, operators can make a choice as to whether the bin location should be visited by the vehicle or not.
Technologies Working in Tandem to Drive Down Costs
Here is an example of where two technologies can operate in tandem to maximum effect enabling waste collection organisations to drive down costs: With bin sensors beaming back fill level data to office based systems, operators can forward that data to online, dynamic route optimisation systems based in the Cloud. In fact, the ‘forwarding’ of data can be automated so by-passing the operator altogether. With no need for human intervention, the SaaS based route optimisation software produces an optimised route sequence for only those bins that need emptying. The bin visit rate is therefore solely dependent on the fill level and a route only generated, and executed, when required. A variation on this is method is, rather than create a brand new route each time, the pre-planned route can be modified to skip certain bins that have low fill levels concentrating on those that are moving toward being full. This ensures effective visit frequency whilst reducing mileage.
Such a combination of technology reduces mileage and therefore fuel costs, reduces CO2 emissions and reduces the number of labour hours utilized. Furthermore, it increases the Return on Investment on both the bin sensors and the route optimisation solution.
Hot Countries and Festivals
The places experiencing the most benefit from bin sensors are very hot locations, such as the United Arab Emirates, where street bin frequency is often several times a day, especially on public holidays. Cities that have regular peaks in visitor numbers, whether that be tourists, business people or festival goers, are also investing in this technology.