Driving Efficiencies in Waste Management – How Councils Can Optimise the Approach

  • 29th August 2018 at 1:00PM
  • Written by Steve White
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by Steve White, Software Business Development Manager, Yotta

When it comes to waste collection and wider environmental services in general, local authorities across the UK are increasingly looking at optimisation to find new ways to deliver efficiencies across their operations.

There are many different aspects to optimisation in this context, of course. At the overarching strategic level, it is about how councils can make optimum use of the resources and infrastructure at their disposal to deliver the best and most efficient service possible.

Traditionally optimisation has focussed on the concept of identifying the necessary number of vehicles to deliver a service within a series of particular constraints. This might include assessing the impact of a change of location of a depot or disposal site, different collection frequencies for particular materials, different lengths of shift or shift patterns. In this context, optimisation is likely to mean identifying at a strategic level the number of vehicles and crew needed to deliver a particular format of service and is undertaken on an infrequent basis.

The next level of optimisation looks beyond the strategic to the more granular level of optimised collection or cleansing routes on a daily basis. There are likely to be many efficiencies that stem from optimising the route of a refuse collection vehicle that has to visit a high number of premises in a day.   In achieving an optimised route, councils will have to take into account a range of access and risk factors such as narrow roads, weak bridges, permitted directions of travel, and timing constraints such as avoiding schools between specific times in the morning and afternoon.

The third level takes this a step further in applying optimisation on a dynamic, or real-time, basis.  This usually encompasses the ability to react quickly to specific or changing events. For example, when a customer reports an incident that needs to be actioned quickly such as needles being found in a park or on a street.  Alternatively, it could be a request from a commercial customer for an additional collection today, when their normal collections take place on other days.  The council needs to have a way of prioritising the work, optimally sequencing it and ensuring it is effectively transferred to the appropriate operative, thereby making certain that these kinds of high-priority jobs are dealt with in a timely manner.

That, at a high-level, encompasses the broad considerations that councils need to bear in mind when it comes to optimising waste collection and other environmental services.  However, as noted earlier, optimisation is fundamentally about using the optimum resources to deliver the most efficient service possible. That means that the whole process of how services are delivered from a customer journey perspective, incorporating the registering and updating of service requests and back-office systems, should also be optimised.  Currently there are often quite significant inefficiencies in the way that service requests are passed through the chain from the customer to the call centre system to the back office and then out to operatives and crews, working in the field. That can be key for councils because difficulties in this area may well negatively impact on a council’s overall relationship with its public.

Moreover, the latest advances in connected infrastructure and Internet of Things (IOT) technology opens up a whole host of new opportunities for optimisation of these wider processes.  Fill-level sensors, compaction technology and RFID tags are, for example, in increasingly prevalent use on waste and recycling containers.  Fill-level sensors allow councils to know when they actually need to collect the contents based on whether the containers are nearing capacity or are full.  There is a growing body of evidence to show that in certain scenarios the ability to undertake collections based on need rather than on a fixed frequency basis delivers service efficiencies.

RFID tags bring further opportunities to optimise the wider process, allowing councils to charge trade customers based on the weight of the waste that has been collected, which is aligned to the actual disposal costs incurred or income generated from recycling, rather than simply charging based on the number of times the bin is scheduled or has actually been emptied.  This approach makes the whole process fairer and more transparent to the customer, also helping to identify ways in which customers can improve their own processes.

Optimising this whole approach to waste collection and other environmental services is of course a complex and difficult challenge for most councils to overcome. Technology is, however, now coming on stream which is making this goal more attainable.  We are seeing the output of strategic modelling imported into and exported out of asset management software for example. The latest connected asset management software will bring councils further opportunities to optimise their whole approach to waste collection and environmental services. What once seemed the unobtainable dream of service optimisation appears to be increasingly within reach.