Antwerp’s solar-powered bins call you when they’re full


The City of Antwerp has equipped its parks with smart rubbish bins that hold more waste and notify the municipal services when they’re getting full


A rubbish bin that lets the municipal services know that it’s getting full could be the answer to overflowing trash. The City of Antwerp has installed 47 of the so-called Bigbelly bins in city parks, with plans to equip all parks by 2019.

Bigbelly is an American company that’s works with the Internet of Things – the next generation of everyday articles like refrigerators, home entertainment and security systems connected to the web. Bigbelly specialises in rubbish treatment, and its bins have been adopted by local authorities in the US, as well as London, Canberra, Leeds and Liverpool.

The receptacles look like ordinary trash bins, but they offer much more. Each one is equipped with compression technology, so it crushes the trash like a household garbage compactor does. This allows it to contain six times more rubbish than a normal bin of similar size. Also, being web-connected means the bins can send a signal to the city cleansing department when they are full.

Antwerp has 1,724 hectares of park, the equivalent of 2,100 football pitches. The parks are places for people to go walking, jogging, cycling or simply relaxing, explains councillor Philip Heylen, so they need to be as inviting as possible.

Everyone’s job

“These larger, smart bins automatically send a signal to the city department when they have to be emptied,” says Heylen, who’s in charge of public works. “That helps avoid unnecessary trips by staff and vehicles. In addition, the bins are fully autonomous, running on solar power.”

One of the biggest issues facing cities is the lack of bins in general. The Bigbelly system takes care of the second-biggest problem. Conventional bins often overflow, producing a result that is not only unsightly, but also tends to encourage littering.

Parks and beaches are the crown jewels of most communities, but the resources required to keep them in pristine condition can tax even the most well-funded departments

- Bigbelly

In the early days of the pedestrian zone in Brussels, for example, one of the principal complaints was that rubbish was allowed to accumulate. The city responded by increasing the number of times cleaning crews passed by.

“Parks and beaches are the crown jewels of most communities, but the resources required to keep them in pristine condition can tax even the most well-funded departments,” according to the Bigbelly website. “Instead of settling for overflowing trash cans or driving needlessly to each park to try and keep up with the demand, the Bigbelly system gives unique visibility into every location from any web-enabled device.”

Additionally, the company says, Bigbelly has helped numerous communities bring a recycling option to parks and playing fields where plastic water and sports drink bottles make up the majority of the waste.

Antwerp plans to replace all of its park bins with Bigbelly by 2019, Heylen says. At the same time, existing initiatives like street volunteers and city stewards will continue to encourage residents to take part in combating litter.

Photo courtesy Stad Antwerpen