Fewer bin collections will NOT save you money

Recently I’ve spotted a story or two in the media suggesting that some UK Councils are considering (or even piloting) reducing the regularity in which they collect household waste.

In some cases, it’s been reported that councils may be considering only emptying residential bins once a month and obviously this is a concern for residents on several levels.

Firstly, I know my own household bins would probably be full in less than month, so what happens then? Will bins overflow, will people resort to “flytipping”[1] Secondly, in the UK, (and in many other countries around the world) all households pay a Council Tax charge (or equivalent) which pays for municipal services including for bins to be emptied, so some people are worrying that their money will be being paid for a poorer service.

The difficult reality is that the vast majority of UK councils have had significant budget cuts over the last 5 years (as I am sure is the case in many communities around the world) and this has had an impact on virtually every aspect of the services they provide. It also means that in the majority of locations, councils are looking at all options for more cost effective ways to deliver the same services for less.

To be sustainable savings need to be found via efficiency and effectiveness in operations, not by reducing the quality of service, such as by cutting the regularity or refuse collection. This is particularly important because collection costs are expected to increase by a factor of 1.8 in the coming years as is the amount of waste being generated due to growing urban populations. Do we keep reducing the service to meet savings or look for new ways of doing things differently and better?

Waste collection has until recently remained a very static business in the sense that the way it’s done hasn’t changed much over time. Trucks have routes that they do on a pre-planned schedule and all bins are emptied according to this schedule, whether they are full or not. This means that each run has fixed costs in terms of vehicles, fuel, staff etc and yes, it might look like the simple way to cut costs is to simply reduce the number of times you run the trucks.

Doing this might actually cost more though, if waste overflows and needs to be cleared up, if it leads to flytipping, if it leads to complaints and environmental, public health or reputational damage.

The good news is that there are new ways of saving money and increasing efficiencies with waste collection, such as our Enevo ONe smart collection system. With our sensors installed in a city’s bins, we can begin optimising waste collection to only collect bins when they’re full, meaning that we dynamically update collection routes to make sure only the bins that need to be emptied are visited and only when they’re full. Our system will allow local authorities to predict the fill levels of bins to 90%+ accuracy which enables highly efficient and far more cost effective waste collection operations.

We already have more than 140 customers around the world including 15 councils in the UK such as the Isle of Man and Islington piloting our solution or rolling out on a large scale. These councils have seen their waste collection costs drop at least 40% even with a reduction of collections by up to 85%. Our optimising waste collection approach also reduces complaints from citizens about waste by around 60%, as well as reducing the use of trucks, fuel, labour, plastic bag consumption, servicing and clean up. All of this means a cleaner environment too.

Councils absolutely need to look at reducing the costs of collecting waste but simply cutting the number of collections may cause far more problems than it solves, especially when there are solutions that can enable a better, cleaner service at a significantly reduced cost.

[1] A British term for illegally dumping rubbish/waste in a public place like the side of a road

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