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Smart Bins—Delivering significant value to the consumer, business and environment

Changing the way we treat waste disposal and inventory management.

This year, an estimated five billion consumer objects worldwide will become "smart"—connected to the internet—with 25 billion predicted by 20201. For those still unaware, this expanding network of physical objects connected wirelessly to Internet is what makes up the Internet of Things. They are objects which can be used for an endless list of uses (think cars, heaters, door-locks etc.), but all share the talent of being capable of sharing data seamlessly across the Internet of Things by chattering away over the airwaves to one another. For consumers who fall within its wireless omnipotence, the Internet of Things brings countless benefits which are already being felt: the ability to transition seamlessly across devices, being able to control home security from the poolside, or turning up the heat at home whilst on the evening commute, to name a few common examples2.

There are huge benefits for businesses too, for example in the Retail industry it is becoming increasingly common for warehouses and dispatch processes to be performed by robots leading to significant supply chain improvements. Just last month, Blue Prism became the first British company using Robotic Process Automation software to list on the AIM, as further evidence that big businesses are more than willing to bring big-data, AI and the Internet of Things into their operations. Is it reasonable to think that we deduce some sort of value from even the most mundane objects by connecting them to the Internet of Things? Even something as uninteresting as the bin perhaps?

The Smart Bin
The Bin. Not the recycling bin shortcut that sits castaway in the top left-hand corner of your desktop, but our humble trash can, the unglamorous garbage container, the distant descendant of the first municipal landfill established on the outskirts of Athens in 400 B.C. A cursory glance would show that the technology and engineering of the bin has changed very little in the past centuries other than maybe our decision making processes around its use: considering whether our rubbish is recyclable or non-recyclable, and putting it into the appropriate compartment. Does the evolution bin have anything more to add?

Nevertheless, the Accenture Innovation Program has taken the principles of innovation and the Internet of Things and applied them to our bins, changing the ways we treat waste disposal, inventory management, and compelling us to reevaluate our own behaviors. The Smart Bin has now become a part of the Internet of Things. The Innovation Program has developed a Smart Bin which can aid inventory management for businesses, and help a user to understand what can be recycled and ensure they are recycling the optimum amount. Imagine a fast food chain that is constantly restocking with the same ingredients. For example a fast-food burger chain is in a constant cycle of inventory monitoring and restocking burger buns. As employees on the burger assembly line use and finish each packet of burger buns they throw the packaging into the Accenture concept Smart Bin. The bin scans the bar code on the packaging as it enters the bin and removes this item from the store’s online inventory. If the online inventory of burger buns falls below a certain point, it can be automatically reordered ensuring the outlet always has enough burger buns for its needs.

The bin can also use the barcode of the packaging to identify if the packaging can be recycled, and inform the user if the packaging has been placed in the wrong compartment, helping a company to reduce its ecological footprint. The value of this becomes strikingly apparent when considering that although up to 70 percent of business waste is recyclable, only slightly over 5 percent finds its way to a recycling facility, the remaining misallocated waste goes on to comprise the 25 percent of the UK’s total annual waste output generated by our commercial sector3. The Accenture Smart Bin can help to improve these figures.

The benefits outlined here are applicable to any business, or organization, which relies on a high turnover of stock; for example online retailers (who use a considerable amount of packaging materials), cleaning services and the NHS, to name but a few.

Helping Cities to be Smart
Smart Bins can be given other functionalities too to enable them to become another part of the Smart City. In London, for example, advertising firm Renew used their Smart Recycling Bins to track mobile devices via Wi-Fi as their owners moved throughout the city of London in order to sell tailored advertising opportunities4. Across the pond in New York, waste management firm BigBelly developed their own Smart Bin which tracks how full it is, this then notifies BigBelly which bins need collecting and emptying and which do not, giving actionable data that drives operational effectiveness5. These bins essentially are able to calculate their own remaining capacity and share this information with cleaning crews, on their network, who then allocate and dispense resources only when there is a necessitated requirement. This kind of Smart Bin is also currently being trialed in Bangkok.

Using Smart Bins to Change Behaviors
The Smart Bin has the potential to be used as a lever to change consumer behaviors. Recently, two graduates in Mumbai devised a Smart Bin which provides free Wi-Fi as a reward for those who put rubbish in the bin; empowering users in an area with a sparse network while tackling environmental issues stemming from poor waste management6.

We can imagine how else Smart Bins could be developed to help change behaviors; for example a Smart Bin in a family home could measure calorie intake and make suggestions to improve the family’s health, or a Smart Bin in an office could measure paper usage throughout the year and check this against the company’s target. As much of what we consume is packaged, the Smart Bin can understand our consumption habits and is well positioned to be a powerful tool to help steer us towards healthier habits both in the home and in the office.

Closing the Lid
Smart Bins are in their infancy, yet it is already clear that they could deliver significant value for the consumer, businesses, and the environment. As the Internet of Things becomes a greater part of everyday life, our bins will be more than just rubbish.

By: George E. Goldhagen

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