Optimizing Waste Pickups to Decrease Disposal Costs

Waste Collection
Photo by VanveenJF on Unsplash

Waste pickups can be an outsized concern for towns and cities. The cost to dispose of municipal solid waste (MSW) has been rising steadily for the last few years. In 2017, it costs an average of $50.30 per ton to dispose of MSW, and that cost is expected to reach $53.53 by 2021. The rising cost of waste disposal is borne upwards by several factors, and municipalities have been casting about for ways to bring prices down. 

One option that many have yet to consider: optimizing waste pickup times.

Why Do Disposal Costs Keep Going Up?

Let’s start by framing the problem: why are waste disposal prices going up, and why is this a long-term trend? 

First, people are making more trash. Americans in particular create more trash per person than anyone else in the world. With 4% of the world’s population, they create 12% of the world’s trash. Of this figure a full 30% is represented by disposable packaging. 

Second, people are running out of space to put their trash. This is a problem that varies based on where you happen to live. In heavily built-up areas of the United States such as the Northeast, there’s a lot less available landfill space, leading to higher costs. 


Finally, there’s the China problem. Early in 2017, the country which had previously accepted most of the world’s recyclable plastics began strictly limiting imports of plastic waste. In 2018, the country banned plastics sourced from municipal waste collections programs. It now only accepts plastics from industrial sources. Only 40 countries now export waste to China, down from 90 just a few years ago.

Municipalities who once depended on Chinese imports for their recycling programs are now out in the cold, as few local recycling programs now remain in developed countries – and those that do remain are ill-equipped to handle the influx of plastics that would have formerly been diverted offshore. Meanwhile, other countries are beginning to import waste plastics in China’s stead, but they too are in danger of being drowned by a flood of excess material.

Due to the affect of the import ban, many municipalities have now cancelled their recycling programs altogether. This has the affect of driving up costs due to the increased volume of waste that would otherwise be recycled. Not only does it cost more to fill up a landfill with excess material, it also costs more in terms of handling costs – more loads of waste, requiring more trucks, and more manpower to drive trucks and handle waste.

It’s Time to Start Cutting Costs

Based on the current municipal waste disposal environment, there is an absolute need for towns and cities to begin cutting costs. Given that there are strict regulations governing municipal waste disposal – plus considerations for the health, safety, and happiness of one’s citizens – cost cutting can’t take the form of reducing trash pickups. Instead, towns and cities need to rely on an old adage from the management industry – work smarter, not harder.

What does this mean? The cost of landfill is something that towns and cities can’t control. They also can’t control international commerce. The only thing they can control is handling costs – the cost of picking up trash, putting it in a vehicle, and delivering it to a landfill.

As it would happen, these costs aren’t set in stone – and they’re the cost that most towns and cities are likely to be overpaying. According to research, garbage trucks are sent out either too early or too late 90% of the time. This leads to avoidable costs and externalities:

  • Too Early: There’s no trash in the bin. Towns are forced to pay the cost of gas, the cost of maintaining their trucks, and the cost of paying municipal workers – all to remove less than half a bin full of waste.
  • Too Late: There’s too much trash in the bin and it’s overflowing. This means more time and work to empty the bins at more cost, plus all of the overflow makes for an unsightly mess that depresses your citizens.

Fortunately, this is a fixable problem.

Nordsense Lets Towns and Cities Cut Costs with Intelligent Waste Collection

It’s time to bring waste collection into the IoT era. By working with Nordsense, you can retrofit your existing municipal waste bins with networked pressure sensors. In other words, you’ll be able to know which of your bins are full just by glancing at an app. Once the number of full bins reaches critical mass, you can roll your trucks to pick them up – emptying only the full bins and leaving the empty ones alone.

This approach saves money right off the bat by allowing your workers to only address the fullest bins – it makes a garbage truck’s route that much shorter, allowing you to save money on fuel and maintenance. In addition, our navigator app can optimize the route between full bins, making the savings even deeper.

Lastly, you can use data from Nordsense to help better serve your community. If some of your bins continually overflow, you can use data from Nordsense to apportion additional bins to those locations. If some of your bins are always empty, you can move them to places that are in greater need of waste receptacles. 

Overall, working with Nordsense can help towns and cities decrease trash collection costs by up to 50%, all while helping them create greener and healthier environments for their citizens. 

Travis Sales is Director of Sales for North America at Nordsense. Using artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and Internet of Things (IoT) technology, Nordsense Smart Waste Management is an end-to-end solution that optimizes waste collection processes by monitoring container levels, applying advanced data analytics and delivering an event-driven turn-by-turn navigation for waste collection. Nordsense makes it easy and cost-effective to deploy a smart waste solution at large scale, enabling cities, waste operators and waste haulers to improve operational efficiently; reducing the number of vehicles on the road, and by extension, fuel consumption, also cuts CO2 emissions.

For more information on how to work with Nordsense, contact Travis Sales at travis@nordsense.com

Picture of John Marwel

John Marwel


Within this program, we can deliver to governments and cities the possibility of implementing Smart City projects from idea (vision) to the final stage of implementation.

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