Australia, News, Technology

Smart bins great for data, but be prepared to pay

Technology is designed to make things easier for those using it – whether it be hardware or software. Progress is also seen as a way of setting new standards, putting in innovative solutions, and making sure procedures run smoothly.

Even in the waste space, this can be a boon, which is why some councils are looking into smart bin technology to help them manage rubbish in the public arena.

Andrew Quinn is the technology director, waste and resources management, for SLR Consulting Australia. He gave a speech at the recent Waste Expo in Coffs Harbour about the different technologies that are available. This included using sensors, wifi, solar power and a plethora of other technologies to help make rubbish collection streamlined. However, there is a price for such technologies.

“One such technology is an individual sensor and fit it to existing bins,” he said. “It works by measuring how full the bin is, often by ultrasonic means. It can also measure things like movement, for example, if a bin is knocked over. It can measure temperature in order to check against fire, and it can record its own location via GPS. It can also record things like its maintenance life and battery life.”

Some bins are more sophisticated than others, he said. Some are solar powered and have panels on top of the bin due to power requirements. Some of them have compactors that push waste down to create space, while others can act as a wifi hub. Then there are others that have CC TV cameras for security reason, or even have illuminated panels for advertising and messages.

“Some will close themselves off when they are full so they don’t overflow, and some have alert lights on them so you can see from a distance whether or not they need to be emptied,” he said.

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The Internet of Things (IoT) means that a lot of technology is set up to transmit data via the internet using computers and smartphones. Councils wishing to implement such technology in their bins can take advantage of the IoT and all it has to offer. But you don’t necessary have to go that deep into technology to make gather information, said Quinn. There are many different types of networks available.

“There are a number of elements I suppose. Bluetooth is a type of network that has a very short range – just between a computer and keyboard. It is so short you do not need a licence to operate it,” he said. “Wifi is similar and is also an unlicensed network and is also short range, but slightly bigger than Bluetooth. It might cover a house with boosters, or a shopping centre. Then there are other parts of the internet – cellular, which are licensed. The government will provide you a licence to allow you to use a particular wavelength for your communications.”

Then there are the various other cellular and non-cellular networks. If a council has integrated or solar bins, these devices can transmit a lot of data via these networks. If doing so, it is important when setting a system up to make sure the network being implement is going to meet all the council’s needs.

And what are advantages of smart bins? For a start, they enable the collection of data for analysis, which enables councils to identify critical bins in critical areas – such as those that fill up quickly. They can also identify problems and get to them before they get out of hand. They also enable the better uses of resources, more efficient routing and cleaning efficiencies and reduce overflowing bins. It allows councils to ensure collection efficiency, and should lead to fewer collections, which is designed to save money and time. The data will also allow users to better report and forecast for the future.

However there are other issues that need to be addressed, according to Quinn. Data security could is one. For example, is it possible for someone to hack into a bin connection? Then there is the issue that some providers don’t provide software, or if they do, the software might not be compatible with the current system a council is using. Or it might be difficult to use. Then there might be the issue that some sensors have a short battery life, and some offer no Australian support. Finally, there is the price.

“As far as the bins go, some can cost up to $6,500 depending on what you want. Additional features will increase the cost,” Quinn said. “There is also a software connectivity fee. The last I heard it was $195 per bin per year. There is also maintenance, which can be $40 per bin per month. Other providers can provide bins up to $4,000. If you want a super duper custom system, then you might pay up to $8,000 for a bin.”