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The connected waste collector

Waste collections are among the most visible services that any council delivers. Every household has mul­tiple kinds of bins and remembering to put the correct one out is a regular challenge.

But car commutes and the school run are often held up by recycling lorries, while streets strewn with rubbish can become a source of public dissatisfaction. Added to this, residents need to interact with the local authority around waste, both to gather information about collec­tions and to complain about related problems. Missed bins do, after all, remain a frustration and an irritation to many residents.

In a recent survey of 1,000 UK adults com­missioned by software company Yotta, more than a third (35%) said they had previously complained to the council about a waste or recycling collection issue. And 95% of those complainants had done so in the past two to three years.

Compounding the issue, the public are often quick to report missed bins. More than half said they would report a missed general rubbish collection within 24 hours, with nearly a quar­ter of the total sample (22%) saying they would report within two hours. Yet it appears that local authorities are not always quick to resolve the issues. A quarter of related problems were said to have been resolved the same day while 8% of queries are never sorted out.

Part of the problem is that residents and councils are often over-reliant on traditional forms of communication. The survey indicated that a fixed-line phone call was the preferred method of reporting a missed waste or recy­cling collection, favoured by 41% of respond­ents. And when it came to checking when their next general waste collection was due, 41% of the survey sample said their preference was for reviewing a paper calendar delivered to them.

These figures are a concern. Local authorities should be encouraging people to move to digi­tal forms of engagement wherever possible. This is in line with the Government’s digital transformation strategy – it is typically less expensive than using traditional channels and it supports much greater reporting flexibility for the public.

There is often a lack of connectivity between the waste management crews in the field, the management team in the back office and the public, who are looking for quick answers to their queries and complaints.

The process is often slow, cumbersome and inefficient. Information captured and logged by waste management crews is made available to the back office only on return to base. Even then, the information will typically need to be input into the council’s IT system manually. Sometimes the crew simply adds paper inci­dent reports to a folder, with the result that critical information is effectively lost and visibility of important data remains almost non-existent.

“In terms of the public’s ongoing reluctance to move to digital, councils need to focus on making the online process for reporting service issues easier, helping to enable channel shift.”

It is clear that many authorities still lack joined-up digital channels capable of speedily transferring information. This can lead to a clear disconnect between office-based manage­ment teams and collectors on the street, slow­ing down the council’s response rate.

So what are the solutions? In terms of the public’s ongoing reluctance to move to digital, councils need to focus on making the online process for reporting service issues easier, help­ing to enable channel shift. The latest digital technologies have a key role to play. The ability of councils to access accurate operational data from waste management crews in near real-time, process it quickly and keep residents informed of the results will be key.

The latest in-cab waste management tech­nologies offer a great way forward. Crews can report service issues and the back office can keep crews updated with the latest details on premises they need to visit, bins they must col­lect or even security codes for locked gates.

This will enable a more proactive service to be delivered. With a mobile in-cab waste man­agement approach in place, the team could see almost instantly the reasons why a bin was missed and alert the householder straight away, with the likely result that the bin collection could be rescheduled to the following week.

It is a winning solution for local authorities and the residents they serve. We are entering a new era of connected waste management, where we are seeing councils increasingly meeting those previously elusive goals of deliv­ering efficient waste management and proac­tively meeting the general public’s concerns.

Steve White is software business development manager at Yotta

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