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Wireless waste

Smart bins have been in fairly widespread use now for about a decade.  You can find them in Scandinavia of course but also in  major cities in the UK while France has humanised its version to the point of naming it Eugene.   Singapore has recently installed a solar powered smart bin and even Colombia has Clean Cube bins, from South Korean company Ecube.  Their principal function is to alert a remote control station when they are full or almost full, triggering the arrival of a rubbish truck to empty them.  This both prevents the surrounding pavements and streets from filling with excess litter but also keeps the garbage trucks elsewhere until absolutely necessary.

The Singapore version is made by Bigbelly of the USA and can be found in a further 44 countries around the world.[1]  It provides free Wi-Fi from 11am to 9pm, an unusual timeframe that begs questions about Singaporeans’ waste disposal habits until we remember that this is the island city-state where chewing gum is illegal and the fine for dropping litter is 2,000 Singapore dollars for the first offence.[2]  Perhaps good citizens are expected to be doing something other than tuning into the local Wi-Fi network between 9pm and 11am or perhaps it is a timetable designed to reflect that of the neighbouring shops which are permitted, under the current trial arrangement, to send pop-up advertisements for their outlets to the phones of the trash can loiterers.

If the latter, it will be interesting to see how the scheme develops.  Three years ago, Renew London was ordered by the Corporation of London to stop monitoring footfall close to its smart bins in the City.  The firm accessed the smartphones of passers-by and claimed that the data collected were of the most generalised, basic and non-sensitive nature but the mere thought of its potential applications was enough to raise serious data protection concerns.[3]

Leeds has Bigbellies too though they seem to keep more round-the-clock hours.  Then again, these are not Wi-Fi enabled, just solar powered.  The local council installed 17 earlier this year and, where their Singapore cousins announce the operational hours of the Wi-Fi network, there is a cautionary reminder that litterers will be fined £75.  Nottingham has 170 Bigbellies financed through a leasing arrangement worth almost £100,000 per annum.  They are considerably more expensive than traditional – almost ten times the price – but they are noticeably more efficient: weekly collections have dropped by 94% [4]

Given the staggering volumes of municipal waste around the world – 1.3 billion tonnes annually in 2012 and growing[5] – it is interesting that the market is dominated by such a small handful of manufacturers. To Bigbelly and Ecube we can add Smartbin and Waviot of the US as well as Enovo of Finland, all of which develop related sensors and monitoring systems but which need hardware producers in order to offer the full solution.

There is a business opportunity there for someone.

[1] Singapore solar powered Wi-Fi bins
[2] Gum control: how Lee Kuan Yew kept chewing gum off Singapore’s streets
[3] City of London calls halt to smartphone tracking bins
[4] Smart Bins as a Service in Nottingham
[5] Global Municipal Solid Waste Continues to Grow