Smart Bins: Singapore uses technology to beat rubbish overflow

Bins that tell the garbage man they need emptying sound like a great idea. Singapore is set to install thousands of smart bins around the city to combat unsightly and unhygenic overflows. By Jeremy Torr. 

Singapore, May 2015. Singapore is to be the first Smart City to implement a great idea that helps stop the biggest problem caused by waste bins - the overflow, cause and effect problem.

If authrities put a bin in a highly trafficked area, it will fill up quickly, and start to overflow onto the pavement. By the time a collector has come to empty it, the supposed public benefit has become an unhygenic eyesore. As a result some authorities actually ban bins, as in parts of Australia.

But if you don't put bins in public areas, casual littering can well increase, leading to an equally unsightly yet more widely distributed problem that takes plenty of manpower to clean up. Of course education is the best approach, but that takes time.

However, a UK company, FarSite Communications, together with Chinese digital equipment company Huawei has come up with a clever solution to this problem, and has also marked it as a potential source of business.


Using sensing monitors in rubbish bin lids, and a clever piece of software partially devised by local company Mobiquest, Singapore is about to roll out some 10,000 bins that will call for help when they are full. That means the garbage team can come and empty it before the mess becomes uncontrollable.

“We are very excited about this Smart Waste Management program," said Rakesh Sabharwal, Mobiquest Director. "We foresee potential opportunities in South East Asia where many countries have announced Smart Nation Initiatives.”

The smart bins come with sensors that detect quantity, heat, and include a compact 3G phone device to feed data back to the serverThe NetBin system features standalone bins with active sensors in the lids that check on the contents, location, or even potential waste fire hazards inside. The system then takes the data from the sensors and sends out notifications to a central server over a standard mobile phone channel.

This allows the garbage collection team to optimise the route planning and not only help keep public spaces cleaner, but also help promote a more efficient and safer collection service.

The netBins, says Huawei's marketing director, South Pacific, Neo Teck Guan, are just the start. "The data collected (from any smart sensor network) can be analysed and used to create a lot of solutions like this. The opportunities are endless,” he said. "It can be applied to the 'Safe City' concept too. For example, I can locate and report on people doing illegal parking, or create an emergency command centre if there is a massive crowd or potential danger spot," he said.

The 10,000 strong netBin network will transmit data from each bin through a standard 3G phone network at 15-minute intervals. And because the batteries in the sensors can last for up to five years, the only potential problem is theft for those looking for a cheap phone. Unhappily for them, the sensor transmitters are locked for netBin network use only.


NetBins transmit information back to a data centre where optimum emptying time and truck route is configured and sent to collectors"We worked hard to ensure netBin, our littter bin monitoring solution won the [Singapore] tender. We are delighted to be at the heart of the Smart City revolution in South East Asia” said Steve Scott, Sales and Marketing Director at FarSite.

The National Environment Agency awarded the contract for the litter bin management system to Mobiquest and FarSite in January this year and they will be installed over coming months.

The collected data will also be able to produce ongoing statistics for refuse disposal habits, so more bins can be provided in unusually heavily used areas, such as near a betting shops where slips are discarded at a high rate. Or on days when there is extra heavy rubbish discard quantities, say Friday evenings after work outside a fast food shop.

The statistics will also be used to generate 'Smart Routes' that take into account which are the most cost and time efficient ways to get to bins that need emptying given traffic flows, available staff, collection vehicle size and so on.

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