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From this week, the council plans to install sensors on 130 of its bins in Dublin as part of a pilot to make its waste collection more efficient, said Barry Woods, a council senior engineer, last Wednesday.
That’s out of a total of about 3,500 bins in the city, according to a council spokesperson.
Sensors would tell the council remotely whether a bin needs emptying, saving staff from visiting those that aren’t full yet, said Woods, at the council’s climate action, environment and energy committee.
“The main focus is to reduce our carbon emissions, to reduce the journey lengths,” he said, at the meeting.
Cities in Europe and America use this technology, said Woods, and using it has the potential to reduce journey times by 33 percent.
“Obviously then, there’ll be a reduction in our carbon emissions and that then frees up our staff for other duties,” he says.
The council does already have 389 high-tech Bigbelly around the city, according to a council spokesperson, with the same kinds of sensors. But the pilot would see the sensors attached to regular bins.
Councillors said they are regularly contacted by people complaining of bins that aren’t emptied enough.
“We all pass bins every day of the week that are full and haven’t been emptied and this will help us deal with that,” said Naoise Ó Muirí, a Fine Gael councillor, at the meeting.
Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn was more sceptical, querying whether the technology was just being used as a means to reduce staff hours.
How Would It Work?
Two bin-collection routes would be covered by sensors in this pilot, said Woods. One on the north side and one on the south side.
The sensors would measure how full the bins are and send that data to a platform, he said. “So the supervisor will know which bins are full on that route.”
For the first three months, the system will let the council’s waste supervisor know by email which bins are full.
The supervisor can send the bin collector a list of these bins, and the collector will decide their own route to reach them, says the pilot report.
For the second half of the project, the data will go through route-optimisation software, he said. “That software then will direct the vehicle to those bins that are full.”
Michael Pidgeon, a Green Party councillor, says anything that can make emptying bins more efficient, rather than staff driving around to look, is great.
“I know other cities have had similar issues with, kind of, manpower,” he says.
Brussels has transparent bin bags so bin emptiers can see when a bin needs to be emptied, he says.“It just looks shocking. I think this approach, hopefully it works.”
A council spokesperson said they could not share how much the bin sensor project would cost as it is commercially sensitive.
If the council moves ahead with a full roll-out, then they’ll go through public procurement, which will determine the cost, they said.
Installing sensors onto its bins rather than replacing the bins with Bigbelly bins is a more cost effective way of using sensor technology, said a council spokesperson on Monday.
The council hasn’t done a review of how Bigbelly bins have worked out, said the spokesperson.
“We do make full use of the Big Belly applications that detect when bins are full,” they said. Waste management crews get a daily email notification of full Bigbelly bins.
In 2019, the council had 110 Bigbelly bins in the Docklands, as part of a partnership with the company. Those were each costing it about €1,000 a year.
Beyond these 110, the council had issued a tender for 800 more Bigbelly bins.
Where Is More Collection Needed?
Woods said bin sensors aren’t needed in areas of busy footfall where bins tend to fill up every day. “So these sensors are in locations where the bin wouldn’t be full every day.”
But even in parts of the city with heavy footfall and daily bin collection, staff in some businesses say the rubbish can overflow.
During the winter, it’s normally on Saturday nights that the bins are overflowing, said Kuba Zbieg in the Port House Cava on Camden Street on Tuesday.
If there were sensors, he says, the waste collection could be more consistent.
“The council waste collectors, I see them twice a night usually, at most,” he says. “At least one more sweep would be useful. They do a good job but it could be better.”
Rachel Jackson, in a charity shop further along the street, said she finds the street quite clean during the day.
“I see the guys, and they’re coming around here from Dublin City Council, and they’re actually doing a great job,” she says. “I believe that they’re here two or three times a day.”
It gets messy on weekend evenings, she says, but it’s usually cleaned up by morning.
Other high footfall areas also say they need more waste collection on weekends and evenings.
Weekends in Temple Bar are the worst, says Naiara Lunardelli, manager of Fabi’s Grill, looking out the window at the Bigbelly bin just outside.
Lunardelli says she sees the bins emptied twice a day during the week which keeps the street clean.
But weekends, especially in the evenings, they overflow, she says.“It’s very inconvenient.”
Across the road, in Leo Burdock’s fish and chip shop, chef Cedric Bersillon says the street can be scattered with litter. “It looks bad.”
Rubbish piled on top of bins and glasses on the street. “People keep going through the glass, and pints and the food and everything.”
More staff need to be around to clean up at the weekend, he says, like they are during the week.
At the council meeting, Mannix Flynn, an independent councillor, said he had heard the council’s waste management staff say they aren’t convinced bin sensors are helpful.
If something gets jammed in the mouth of the bin, it sends off a signal that the bin is full, he said. “The technology, as far as I can make out, isn’t really robust.”
Woods said he takes that concern on board. “But that’s really what the trial is all about, to see how successful it is, and to what sort of issues are going to arise from the trial.”
Flynn said the purpose should be ensuring the bins are emptied frequently enough, and that the streets are kept clear, he says. “In the summertime, the bins can fill up very very fast.”
Deirdre Heney, a Fianna Fail councillor, said she is constantly ringing the council to pass on complaints about overflowing bins. “I’m concerned that we lose track of what we’re trying to do here, is to keep the bins empty.”
Ó Muirí, the Fine Gael councillor, asked whether the council foresaw any difficulties changing staff work practices.
Woods, the council engineer, said the council is consulting with unions and workers’ representatives.
“It’s a collaborative project with them,” he said. “Everything’s going okay so far.”
At the moment, the council employs 505 staff to run its waste-management service, including depot, fleet maintenance and operational staff, said a council spokesperson.
That is an increase from 2017 when 434 staff were delivering waste management services, they said.