Budget cuts open the door for more efficient waste collection

Written by Matti Juutinen

Budget cuts open the door for more efficient waste collection

Local governments worldwide have gone through astonishing changes during the last few years. Dwindling economic conditions caused austerity to become a staple policy of many national governments. And, as a result, there has been a substantial reduction in finance for public services.

This has been particularly impactful on the funding of waste collection services. The Chartered Institution of Waste Management (CIWM) ran a survey called Waste on the Front Line (available at their site) analyzing the effect of austerity measures on street cleaning services in the UK. Over 69% of the respondents reported that their department's budgets were affected by reductions in central Government funding. The cuts ranged from £100,000 per year in smaller councils to over £2 million per year for larger boroughs.

A similar case can be seen in the USA. According to the Environmental League of Massachusetts (ELM), the state of Massachusetts had a budget for solid waste management of around $2M in 2009. By 2013, this had fallen to $375,000. Although it has since risen to $500,000 in 2015, the budget remains a shadow of what it once was.

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The negative impact on service levels

Evidence in Britain shows that there have since been widespread changes in waste collection and street cleansing services in response. In particular, there has been a noticeable decrease in service levels. And, as neighborhood upkeep deteriorates, so too will the cleanliness of local environments.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a study in 2015 detailing the impact of budget cuts on local governments and poorer communities in the UK. When it comes to neighborhood upkeep, the study showed in particular how staff reductions have resulted in reduced frequency of waste collection. New policies were also enacted, like charges on the collection of certain bulky waste. All in all, this has caused a steep decline in hygiene and an increase in litter on many streets.

What's worse is that overflowing bins and uncollected litter make the ideal breeding ground for dangerous bacteria and vermin, with councils unprepared for the infestation. The BBC reported in 2012 that over 29 councils stopped or reduced their pest control business as a result of tightening budgets. And, the British Pest Control Association claim that around 670,000 pest treatments were carried out by local authorities in 2010/11, dropping to approximately 500,000 in 2013/14.

Reduced neighborhood maintenance has also caused some playgrounds to become unusable, due to increased amounts of rubbish and dog mess left uncleaned. Because of fewer available personnel, local councils lack the ability to appoint local wardens to monitor certain parks and spaces. Many local residents, who are angry at the negative influence budgets cuts have had on the cleanliness of their streets, report that this has led to gangs congregating in these zones to drink and smoke. Not only does this further diminish hygienic standards, but also leaves occupants feeling threatened.

How modern technology can help

The need to develop a more efficient and sustainable approach to waste collection has never been greater and modern technology may have a few solutions.

For example, waste compacting bins powered by solar energy is a creative alternative to normal containers. They're designed specifically as a way of cutting cost and improving waste collection efficiency. These containers come with built-in compactors triggered automatically depending on the bins fill-level, allowing the bin to hold up to 8 times more waste. Because they're solar-powered, there's also little to no maintenance fees required to keeping them active.

By holding more waste, these bins significantly reduce the frequency of waste collection needed to keep streets optimally clean. Furthermore, there is the option of generating additional revenue via creative ads, which, when positioned in areas of low recycling participation, can double up as a marketing vehicle, promoting and encouraging recycling among the locals.

You may be wondering how the fill level is monitored.

Well, wireless ultrasonic sensors are another recent innovation with the potential to make a huge improvement in the efficiency of waste collection. These clever devices come with a variety of attachment options, allowing them to mount onto any container, steel or plastic. They're able to detect any solid and liquid waste within a range of 30 - 400 cm, and are also cost efficient, built for durability and with a battery life of up to 10 years.

Both products come with innovative software which provides crucial information in real time, as well as ahead of time. This allows managers to optimize their waste collection routes and schedules, reducing the operational costs of waste collection, and ensuring efficient crew management.

Leading the frontier for intelligent IoT-based waste management is a company called Ecube Labs.

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To find out how smart technologies could reduce waste collection costs in your city, please contact us.