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The City of Pittsburgh modernizes its waste collection process while combating climate change

Victor Stanley Relay optimizes public works resources with smart city waste control using real-time actionable data from the streets

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a city rich with industrial legacy, but is forward thinking in its relationship with technology. When city leaders were tasked with updating their waste collection process to reduce inefficiencies and provide cleaner streets, they turned to a data-driven solution. A solution that fits hand-in-glove with their ambitious goals in the fight against climate change – taking steps towards reducing greenhouse gases, curbing CO2 emissions, increasing renewable energy use, and attempting to achieve Zero Waste.

For the modernization of their trash collection system, the city recognized a significant problem of not knowing which of their 2,000 litter receptacles required collection at any particular time. Without data about fill levels, they had no choice but to drive the full collection routes every day. Inevitably, some containers would be already overflowing by the time the crew arrived, and other areas would have no containers requiring collection, but each receptacle had to be serviced.

Relay sensor with replaceable batteries embedded within dome lid

Relay sensor with replaceable batteries embedded within dome lid

In 2016, Pittsburgh began implementing the Victor Stanley RelayTM smart waste management system to upgrade to a more efficient waste collection process. Using sensors embedded within their litter receptacles that measure how full the containers are, and then transmit that information to the people responsible for collecting them, the city found a way to create and utilize real-time data – from the very company whose containers were already ubiquitous on the city’s streets. With the Relay system’s built-in GPS used for managing their waste receptacle inventory, the city planned a staggered rollout of more than 200 containers in each of its six divisions and has deployed more than 1,200 Relay containers as of June 2019.

The data gathered from this deployment reflected the astonishing statistic that, on any given day, an average of only 13% of the city’s containers would reach the 90%-full threshold that represents critical need for collection.

Emptying a Relay-enabled SD-42 on a Pittsburgh street

Emptying a Relay-enabled SD-42 on a Pittsburgh street

A cost savings analysis(1) provided even further justification for collecting only the containers which reach at least 90% full, instead of collecting containers regardless of fill level. Incorporating wages for the truck drivers and laborers, and the costs of equipment and fuel, the savings analysis shows that the 90% full collection model can achieve an average monthly savings of more than $128,000. This translates to roughly $1.54 million over the course of a year. Even if the city took a more conservative approach and collected only containers at least 75% full, they would still save an average of more than $1 million per year.

“I believe it’s going to be almost a couple million dollars savings.”
– Mike Gable, City of Pittsburgh Public Works Director(2)

Equipment depreciation costs are reduced, fuel use is significantly reduced, and the laborers previously making superfluous trips to unfilled containers can be reallocated towards higher priority items instead. Many of these tasks have an immediate and tangible impact on the public, such as responding to citizen-initiated 311 requests, street cleaning, and filling potholes. Pittsburgh’s Public Works Department used this data to determine that they could reduce the number of employees previously occupied exclusively with trash collection from 25 down to 9. Instead of downsizing the department, the other 16 employees are being reassigned to tasks such as “more lot cleanup, more getting into the catch basins, pruning trees, things that have been waylaid for years” according to Public Works Director Mike Gable.(2) Internalizing this information and having a better understanding of how many containers are filling up on a given day – and how much time was being spent servicing containers unnecessarily – also gave the city confidence to consolidate their six divisions into a single, streamlined central litter division. “Based on our analysis, we expect that the smart litter cans will give us the ability to make process improvements that will reduce the amount of labor hours spent on emptying garbage cans by at least half,” said Matthew Jacob, a project manager with the city’s Department of Innovation and Performance.(3)

Pittsburgh is also gathering statistics – recorded by the Relay sensors – about which containers are being over-utilized and are filling up extremely quickly, and which are being under-utilized, and going days at a time without filling up. This allows Pittsburgh to make data-driven decisions on where would be the optimal areas to relocate containers within the city, or to determine if additional containers are needed to contend with the amount of trash generated in specific locations.

In May 2018, Pittsburgh approved the Climate Action Plan 3.0, which spells out their goals for helping to curb climate change by 2030. Among those goals are a 50% reduction in transportation emissions and reaching Zero Waste throughout the city. To help attain  the goal of diverting trash from landfills, Pittsburgh will continue to leverage their existing Relay containers and the data they gather, which measures key factors, including how long it typically takes for containers to fill up, and how often collections are taking place.

CO2 reduction potential with Relay deployment

CO2 reduction potential with Relay deployment

Using the Relay routing algorithm to determine the most efficient path for reaching only the containers that require collection will also reduce the amount of time that these diesel heavy trucks will spend on the road. The amount of CO2 produced by heavy diesel trucks in Pittsburgh’s fleet that are maintaining a standard waste collection operation – driving to every container – could be reduced dramatically by changing to a more efficient collection operation, where only containers reaching at least 90% full are serviced. This reduction could be as high as 19,000 kg of CO2 per month, which is roughly equivalent to 20,000 pounds of coal burned. Additionally, the more efficient collection route would mitigate emissions not only from the collection vehicles themselves, but also from the other vehicles nearby, which will experience fewer traffic delays caused by trucks on prolonged collection routes. “The supervisors on any given day should be able to generate the number of cans that need to be emptied and the route that the driver should take” Gable said.(2)

Additionally, once enough data has been gathered to determine exactly how many of these refuse trucks are actually required for a full collection schedule, the city can strategically decide how best to downsize its fleet.

The city is also approaching the task of CO2 reduction by way of carbon sequestration from the 40,000 trees the city currently has street-side. The Relay system can enhance this initiative as well, using its environmental sensors to measure the temperature of every container within the city. When these sensors determine an area has atypically high temperatures, the city can then evaluate and determine if there is insufficient tree coverage, which would provide analytical support for planting trees there in the future.

“The smart cans allow DPW to offer better refuse services to Pittsburgh residents and neighborhood business districts, while freeing up our workers to do other work to keep the city tidy.”
-Mike Gable, City of Pittsburgh Public Works Director.(4)

Using the Victor Stanley Relay system, the City of Pittsburgh is overhauling not just the day-to-day practice of their waste collection, but also determining how best to pick up trash within the city. Instead of being constrained by the “this is how we’ve always done it” process of many other major cities, Pittsburgh looked to the edge of innovation to completely modernize this crucial aspect of public works, using an approach driven by real data collected from the actual city streets. With the Relay system’s data and the other technological tools at their disposal, Pittsburgh is well positioned to lead the way on two fronts – the global, ongoing battle against climate change, and the seemingly simple task of improving the way they collect trash.

Read the full report at: www.victorstanley.com/pittcasestudy.

Sources

  1. Hooper, Alan, and Murray, Dan. “An Analysis of the Operational Costs of Trucking: 2018 Update.” American Transportation Research Institute, Oct. 2018, https://atri-online.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/ATRI-Operational-Costs-of-Trucking-2018.pdf.
    See Appendix in the full report at www.victorstanley.com/pittcasestudy for Cost Savings Analysis Operating Assumptions table.

  1. “More than 1,000 ‘Smart’ Garbage Cans Deployed around Pittsburgh.” WTAE, WTAE, 4 June 2019, www.wtae.com/article/1000-smart-garbage-cans-deployed-around-pittsburgh/27721848.

  1. Bauder, Bob. “Pittsburgh Deploys More than 1,000 ‘Smart’ Trash Cans.” TribLIVE.com, 4 June 2019, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/more-than-1000-smart-trash-cans-placed-throughout-pittsburgh/.

  1. “Over 1,000 Smart Garbage Cans Set Up Citywide.” CBS Pittsburgh, CBS Pittsburgh, 4 June 2019, https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2019/06/04/smart-garbage-cans-set-up-citywide/.

  1. “City Council Approves Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan 3.0.” Pittsburgh Green Story, 5 June 2018, https://pittsburghgreenstory.com/city-council-approves-pittsburgh-climate-action-plan-3-0/.

  1. Yeager, Sarah. “City of Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan 3.0” 19 February 2018 https://pittsburgh.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=5817176&GUID=075303EF-B062-46D5-A5EE-68A209C2B01A.

  1. Olzinger, Jennifer. “City of Pittsburgh Office of Management and Budget on behalf of Department of Public Works –Request for Proposal for Litter Can Monitoring and Management RFP No. 2016-0028” 1 July 2016.

  1. “Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 15 Oct. 2018, www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator.

  1. “Carbon Footprint Calculator.” Fleet News, www.fleetnews.co.uk/costs/carbon-footprint-calculator/.

About the Authors

BRYAN SLAUGHENHOUPT, Vice President of Product Development and Operations, Victor Stanley, Inc. bryans@victorstanley.com

MIKE NOONE, Market Analyst and Solution Developer, Victor Stanley, Inc. miken@victorstanley.com

MATTHEW JACOB, Business Analyst, Department of Innovation and Performance matthew.jacob@pittsburghpa.gov

ALICIA CARBERRY, Operations Assistant, Office of Mayor William Peduto alicia.carberry@pittsburghpa.gov

About Victor Stanley

Victor Stanley, a leader in quality site furnishings, helps you bring your visions to life. From benches and bike racks to smart litter receptacles, which use our Relay Sensor and Service to enable efficient collection routing, we meticulously design, engineer and manufacture every detail to ensure our site furnishings will withstand the test of time. For over 57 years, we have helped create a place for people to gather, live life and make timeless moments.

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