Roll-Out of New Bins Brings Dreams of High-Tech Possibilities, Fears of Privatisation and Costs

A Bigbelly bin can do much that’s beyond the basic litter can.

It can crush the waste inside. The solar panel on its head generates energy, and lets bin collectors know when it’s full.

“Every one of those bins is communicating back in real time. So then you can start optimizing collections,” says Jamie Cudden, Smart City lead for Dublin City Council.

One of the selling points for those in favour of Bigbelly bins is that they mean fewer pick-ups – in part because they’re emptied only when they’re full, but also because they’re bigger, so fewer are needed.

But some Dublin city councillors are not totally sold on the idea of bringing in more of the Bigbelly bins.

Councillors regularly complain that a shortage of street bins means streets are dirtier, and some say they’d worry about moves to cut the number of bins further.

Others have questions about the costs of the Bigbellies – and how their heftier price tag might be covered in the future.

More Efficient?

So far, the council has installed 110 Bigbelly bins in the Docklands, says Cudden, of Smart City. But more have been rolled out across the city recently too.

“We’ve seen an 82 percent increase in efficiency,” he says, opening up the Clean Waste app on his phone. By that, he means the bins can hold more waste, he says.

The app, created by the company, Bigbelly, has a map showing the location of each bin, and how full it is.

Dublin City Council isn’t the first in the game. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council began to replace 530 of its litter bins with 421 Bigbelly bin as far back as 2014.

Before the change, that council’s on-street bins could hold 45,000 litres. Afterwards, they could hold 250,000 litres. That meant bins didn’t have to be emptied as often.

The number of bins emptied during a working day dropped by 85 percent, according to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council press release. The council’s fleet operating costs fell by 75 percent, and so energy consumption did too.

There were fewer overflowing bins, too, the council statement said – so street cleaners spent less time sweeping the streets clean.

Tendering last year for rubbish bins, Dublin City Council said it was looking to cut the number of litter bins on the streets in its area by 20 percent.

Getting rid of bins isn’t new. The council has been getting rid of bins since it privatised domestic waste collection in 2012, says Green Party Councillor Janet Horner.

“Because they feel that they are being used for domestic waste,” she says. But removing street bins isn’t the right approach, she says.

There were roughly 5,000 bins in the Dublin City Council area when the Litter Management Plan 2008–2011 was drawn up. That had fallen to 3,500 bins by the time the 2016–2018 plan was written – and, more recently, to 3,091.

Social Democrats Councillor Tara Deacy says that dog dirt and litter on the street is an ongoing issue for people in her constituency in Kimmage, where there’s a shortage of bins.

“I could drive through three or four roads and there’s no bins,” she says. “And I would see that as being problematic.”

Most residents’ associations want, in particular, dog foul bins, says Deacy. “I’d be worried that people aren’t going to take the time and hold on to the dog foul until they find one of these.”

She understands the argument that Bigbelly bins are more sustainable, she says. But she questions how effective they will be in keeping the streets clean – when there are already too few bins.

For Cudden, though the smart bins throw open more opportunities than simple waste collection.

“Each of these bins are solar-powered and, having excess power. Could you incorporate different types of sensors to monitor the environment?” he says.

“Or could you put some sort of bluetooth network in that might track stolen bikes or things like that?” he says.

In the next few weeks, two bins in the Docklands will be equipped with wifi as part of Smart Docklands ongoing trial with Bigbelly bins.

The Costs

In its tender last year, the council said it was looking for up to 800 solar-powered compactor litter bins. Cudden reckons it has bought about 300 of these so far, he said.

These are separate to the 110 bins in the Docklands, which are provided as part of a partnership with Bigbelly bins.

Dublin City Council hasn’t responded to queries sent last week as to the number of other bins they’ve rolled out.

Each bin costs about €1,000 per year, says Cudden. “I can’t break it down into different components because of commercial sensitivities,” he said.

Dublin City Council Press Office didn’t respond to queries about how much normal litter bins cost.

In the tender, the council said it was open to either a rental contract with maintenance for five, seven or 10 years – or purchasing the bins outright.

The council has not yet responded to queries sent last Wednesday, asking if it is renting the bins from Kyron Street Ltd, the company that’s behind Bigbelly bins in Ireland, or has purchased them.

Since January 2018, Dublin City Council has paid roughly €943,000 to Kyron Street Ltd, according to some of its purchase orders.

The orders list the money spent as for: “Bins Cast Iron Litter Inner”, “Furniture Purchase”, “Litter Bin Free Standing”, “Compactor Plate Hire”.

Dublin City Council hasn’t responded yet to queries as to what exactly these payments cover, whether they include rental costs, and whether they relate to the tender. It’s also unclear if, or how much, the council is paying for software.

Invoices between Bigbelly Bins and Iowa State University show different packages on offer in the United States.

One for a “5 Year Fleet Management Program” added up to $4,270 per station, in other words, for one bin. This includes installation, a five-year warranty and five-year or access to the Clean Waste app. After that, it’s $342 for a two-year extended licence.

A monthly subscription option, meanwhile, is $80 per bin. This includes the same as above, plus shipping, but the contract lasts two years. There’s a possibility that costs could rise after but by no more than by 5 percent, it says.

Neither option includes additional costings such as installation of an ashtray ($125), or the custom wraps ($395) that can go around the bins.

A June 2017 reviewby the City of Philadelphia’s Street Department of Bigbelly bins there noted that the software system costs $130,000 per year. It had also suffered from “significant network outage”, it said.

The review said the estimated $13 million savings from the council were exaggerated as costs such as labour, maintenance, and replacement parts were not considered.

Dublin City Council’s tender documents outsourced the maintenance in the contract, though.

And Cudden says there’s the potential to make some of the costs back through advertising on the bins.

Privatisation?

Using bins for advertising wouldn’t be an issue, says Horner, of the Green Party. “But there’s something quite problematic about having to attract commercial revenue to provide basic services.”

Is this a privatisation of city services previously managed by the council?

“I don’t think it’s privatisation,” says Fine Gael Councillor Naoise Ó Muirí. “I want the city council looking at new innovations and trialling them.”

Deacy, of the Social Democrats, disagrees. “I think it’s the role of Dublin City Council to provide those services,” she says.

Cudden says it’s important to keep in mind that these bins have the potential to provide so much more than just waste services.

“People used to think that a bin was just a bin, you know, and it’s kind of a whole new paradigm. When something takes up physical space in a city it can be so much more,” he says.

Author:

Sean Finnan: Sean Finnan is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers the north side of the city. You can reach him at sfinnan@dublininquirer.com.

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