It’s time to stop comparing apples with pears when it comes to waste collection technology, says Emmett Reidy, Business Development Director at Bigbelly.
Calls for a level playing field can often be heard across every industry sector. However, a level playing field is exactly what is now needed when it comes to the procurement of smart waste collection technologies, particularly in relation to creating smart cities.
Bigbelly was established in 2003 and is now the longest standing solar compacting bin of its kind to feature fullness monitoring and real time alerting capabilities. Launched well before the concept of a smart city was first discussed and just as sustainability started to become a focal point, the idea of a bin that could not only let you know when it needed to be collected but also featured a self-compactor was met with disbelief.
However, 16 years later, Bigbelly is not only accepted as a leading waste collection technology, but it’s also used by local authorities to create efficiencies and reduce the carbon footprint associated with diesel powered collection vehicles required to continually empty traditional litterbins – many of which are often emptied when less than 10 per cent full.
With the launch of any innovative product you create a market. Then follows the competition. And, just as you can’t compare a Ferrari to a Fiat, diamonds to Cubic Zirconia or apples with pears, you can’t compare a Bigbelly unit with a competitor product. Well, not unless you have the data to support a fair and balanced comparison, that is.
IoT capabilities are now well understood; so simply explaining the premise of Bigbelly is no longer enough to differentiate it from growing competition. It’s now time to get technical and educate those responsible for procuring technologies such as Bigbelly in order to prevent them from making long-term mistakes in return for short-term gains (which, more often that not, comes down to price).
It’s no secret that Bigbelly has the highest upfront cost. This price difference relates to the amount of ongoing research, design and development required to address issues of functionality, safety, environmental impact, cost of life and ongoing service delivery. So, comparing the cost of initial capital expenditure with Bigbelly against Competitor A and Competitor B is simply not enough. Those responsible for buying self-compacting bins have a duty to understand the very guts of the technology in order to be able to make decisions that take into consideration functionality, longevity, battery life and safety – not just cost.
For instance, there’s a good reason why the collection vehicles used by any given UK council aren’t cheap imports from China or India but well known Scandinavian or German brands; the upfront cost might be more expensive but they’re reliable, parts are widely available and they have long lifecycles. As the saying goes, ‘you get what you pay for’.
As a container manufacturer and waste solutions provider whose customer base is primarily local authorities, Egbert Taylor appreciates the issues around austerity, which has created the tight budgets that councils now have to work within, and has first hand experience of trying to mitigate this. However, when it comes to procurement, the current tender process for products like Bigbelly doesn’t necessarily lend itself to long-term thinking.
For example, council A may want to incorporate solar compacting bins in order to improve the streetscene environment by carrying out additional street cleansing work. After all, the solar compactors are there to free up resource by reducing vehicle and operatives’ time allocated to collecting traditional bins, and also mitigate against the number of overfull bins visible to the public. However, has procurement tested or proven that compacting bin A delivers the same compaction ratio as Bigbelly? Does the ram trigger automatically? How often will it compact daily? How far into the liner does the ram travel? If the compact ratio is insufficient it runs the risk of actually impacting streetscene negatively by not being fit for purpose and creating inefficiencies – the very opposite of what the council originally sought.
Similarly, has council B considered the number of moving parts in a unit’s foot pedal – the most utilised component of any compacting bin – and their availability should the pedal fail. And what about battery life?
Bigbelly, for example, operates at less than 3wH per day, carrying out 15 compactions and two communications, which is much less than its competitors and is at this level to avoid solar battery failure at the UK’s latitude. In fact, Bigbelly is the only solution to adopt the skip-a-cycle approach, a patented system that enables each unit to detect when voltage drops and adjust its compaction settings to extend its battery life to now last six to eight years. Without measures like this in place a station’s battery can become so drained that it becomes permanently damaged and will not recharge.
The battery is the heart of a compacting bin – and an expensive one at that – and issues around battery replacements and maintenance need careful consideration. Even with a five-year warranty included, how long will the unit of competitor A and B be down for – and what about the resource now needed to cover the additional costs of emptying that bin while waiting for the battery to be replaced? On this basis, collection operatives will quickly return to ‘old ways’ as they lose faith in the technology.
Possibly one of the most overlooked factors is safety. How does the public interact with the unit? Are there sharp edges around the chute or aperture? Can the public touch the ram or reach broken glass in the bin? Will the council be liable if a member of the public is injured? What happens when an operative opens the door – are there double safety features in place? Is public safety 100 per cent wholly reliant on one sensor? We believe that it shouldn’t be as sensors fail, which further illustrates how design is key.
“I would urge councils to test and trial these products over a period of time.”
To be clear, my aim here is to encourage those responsible for procurement to dig deeper than the initial price and consider the wider cost – and functionality – implications of the system as a whole. I would urge councils to test and trial these products over a period of time, and watch and speak with the public and collection operatives as they interact with the product.
Whilst Bigbelly is the longest standing solar compacting bin, 16 years is still a relatively short period of time and the technology is comparatively new. As a result, we – the producers – will continue to invest and are still open to learning ourselves. By educating our customers they, too, will become more knowledgeable and be able to make more informed decisions. Equally, this knowledge will help prevent them from making uninformed comparisons that not only have the ability to negatively impact local authorities’ waste collection strategies and budgets in the long term, but also stifle the progress of those whose technology offers a robust long-term waste collection solution.