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'Smart' bins could cut collection costs, says think tank

Sensors in rubbish bins could in future sort materials and determine charges for waste collections, a think tank has said.

The Social Market Foundation’s Tech in the Town report said there was “the potential to revolutionise waste collection in the UK through the use of smart, connected bins”.

These could alert local authorities to when and where bins need to be emptied, offering efficiency savings, although it admitted economies of scale could make this more useful in rural areas than towns, where regular collections might remain more economic.

Potentially large savings were available, the report said, citing the case of Rugby Borough Council, which replaced 56 conventional street bins – which had received two-to-three collections per day - with 23 solar powered ‘Big Belly’ stations fitted with bin-fill sensors.

This enabled Rugby to reduce manual waste collections from 51,100 per year to just 1,509.

The report said internet-connected bin-fill sensors in household bins could generate savings for local government through reduced collections, and new financial incentives to recycle more.

Household waste collections could be paid for on a per collection basis - rather than through council tax - so households would have an incentive to produce less waste and recycle more.

It warned though that concerns over civil liberties could be raised if local authorities appeared to have placed ’spying’ microchips in residents’ bins.

Smart bins should also become able to sort waste, sensors, image recognition and artificial intelligence to recognise different placing waste into the relevant small internal bin, where it would be compressed.

Public support might be more readily available on a ‘carrot’ basis, rather than a ‘stick’ basis, the report said.

Households that require fewer collections could receive a council tax rebate, for example, rather than imposing higher charges on those using more frequent collections.

The report also looked at how councils could exploit other emerging technologies such as autonomous public transport and road pricing.

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