Making waste collection smarter: Cefriel

Giacomo Tagliabue, Expert Researcher and Consultant on IoT Technologies at Cefriel, talks about using LPWAN to develop a smart refuse collection solution.

Urban refuse collection includes domestic and commercial waste collection and the emptying of public litter bins. Sounds simple enough, but the process is not averse to a number of challenges and potential pitfalls.

You see more often than not, in the suburbs, public litter bins are being collected before they are full, whilst in more crowded areas bins tend to fill quickly and need to be emptied more frequently.

The frequency of collection can vary from less than once a day in suburbs, to more than three times a day in more crowded areas. The refuse collection team is issued the collection route, which is defined by the daily experience of the teams who report back how full the bins are. To make sure that citizen’s demands are constantly met whilst ensure that waste collection remains both proficient and cost-effective, meant that waste collection needed to become smarter.

The evolution of smart bins

Cefriel started to develop a smart bin in 2009 before the Internet of things (IoT) and Low-Power Wide-Area Networks (LPWAN) became more mainstream. The very first prototype had a GPRS/3G radio and a very simple back-end system. Figure 1 shows the comparison between the existing refuse collection process and the smart waste collection solution.

cefriel making bin collection smarter

Figure 1. Comparison of a traditional waste collection process (A) and the smart waste collection solution (B) with optimisedsed collection paths

It’s time to bin the old way of collecting waste

It is being proven that citizens and refuse collection agencies could both benefit from the introduction of a smart waste collection solution. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out why.

First and foremost the refuse agency can optimise waste removal time and route based on real-time data received. This up to the minute information allows them to distribute, allocate and maintain litter bins based on data trends collected over time. In addition, it allows them to certify waste removal with time indication, track the activity of its employees, monitor damages caused by vandalism and enable value added services using sensor networks. And just as important, perhaps more so, citizens receive a better quality service and benefit from a cleaner and tidier environment.

The technical solution

smart waste collection overview

Figure 2. Smart waste collection solution overview

The smart waste collection solution includes:

  • low unit cost, enabling bins to be deployed at scale (a thousand or more units)
  • robust design, the bins have a life span of several years with little or no maintenance
  • low impact on bin handling and appearance (citizens and collection teams are familiar with the current form of the bins; this feature avoids disruption)
  • low cost and low power wireless connectivity
  • a robust and scalable back-end system which can be integrated with other systems with the option to easily develop new features.

Digital Catapult’s Things Connected programme is giving Cefriel the opportunity to migrate the solution to LoRa/LPWAN and to test the system in a real-world environment.

Figure 2 shows the system architecture of the system developed for the LPWAN version of the smart bin. The smart bin can now detect how full it is via an innovative and patented technology (see patents EP2516974 and EP2721377), based on capacitive sensors applied to the bins.

Combining this sensing technology with the data transmission over LPWAN will deliver longer battery life at a lower cost.

In short, this new solution is a win-win for all parties involved and ensures that going forward, waste collection is not left behind by getting a much needed digital shot in the arm.


If you’re interested in what LPWAN technologies could do for your town or business or you’re interested in partnering with us on projects like this take a look at our LPWAN partner Open Call here


Giacomo Tagliabue



One Comment on:
“Making waste collection smarter: Cefriel”

  1. Dom says:

    This sounds like a great initiative. If this sort of technology was in use over a very large scale we would start to see a lot of trends very quickly and really make some valuable optimisations in the way we deal with waste.

Leave a comment