For good or for bad, technology has inexorably crept into all the nooks and crannies of our lives. Take cell phones. The technological advancements of these devilishly addictive devices have made them a fundamental part of our lives. We keep our music, personal contacts, and appointments on them. We watch streaming video and take hi-res photos. We send texts and emails. We surf the web, we tweet, we Facebook, we Pinterest, and we Google. Nouns become verbs. And the GPS gets us to where we need to go, most of the time. We may even use them speak to another human once in a while. And just about everyone – from Grandma to your pre-teen – has one. The mobile phone, once an exclusive toy only available to the wealthy, is about as pervasive as a technology can get in our society – affordable, reliable, and readily available.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of the same basic amenities your mobile phone has are now being used in an area never considered possible: garbage and recycling.
Solid waste collection can be inefficient. In Kirkland, businesses and multifamily properties pay their monthly collection and disposal fees based upon the volume of their container(s) and the number of times each container is picked up during the week. Often times, the containers are not completely full when dumped on a regular schedule or “static route”, so the customer ends up “paying for air”. Air isn’t as cheap as you thought, is it? Needless to say, our collection system isn’t as efficient as it could be.
For the past few months, the City of Kirkland Solid Waste Division has partnered with Enevo, a Finnish company making inroads in the United States, to pilot a wireless sensor system that makes collection more efficient and dynamic. Each Enevo sensor is mounted on the wall of a dumpster and sends out an ultrasonic beam to detect the presence of trash and recyclables. The shorter the beam, the fuller the container. When a container is full and dumped, the unit sends a message to the website that the motion sensor has been activated and that the container has been serviced.
City staff installed ten remote sensors in garbage and recycling containers at Kirkland City Hall, Maintenance Center, and Justice Center. Each facility and its containers were taken off a regular, static route and placed on an on-call status. Staff began monitoring the fullness level of each container daily via the Enevo website. Only when a container reached a fullness level of at least 70-80%, was a service request made to Waste Management to empty the container the next day.
We found that at two locations – City Hall and the Justice Center – the recycling and garbage containers were reaching capacity only once per week but were being picked up on a regular schedule two and three times per week, respectively. The service reduction alone at these two City facilities will save the General Fund about $7,800 per year. At the Kirkland Maintenance Center, there was little change in the service intervals between the regular static route and the frequency of on-call service requests. However, one container was found to be used so infrequently that it will be removed after the pilot, saving the City an additional $1,850 per year.
Not too shabby. And this was a test of just ten containers out of dozens at other City facilities and several hundred at commercial and multifamily properties throughout the City. If expanded to a larger scale, the potential for rate savings to customers is significant as the collection component – that is, all costs associated with the driver and the collection vehicle – comprises between 40 to 50 percent of the rate a customer pays for a given container size. The waste hauler also gains the efficiency of being able to use the real-time data to design optimum collection routes based on when and where containers historically reach capacity.
But, enough of this. I need to get back to Facebooking and Googling.