A more efficient bin collection service in Exeter relying on satellite navigation

The Exeter City Council

Exeter is a city in South West England, with 125,000 residents and 53,000 households. Exeter City Council is responsible for the economic development of the city, as well as for providing a range of services, including: housing; planning; street cleaning; and refuse and recycling collections, among others.

The Council has 12 lorries which collect domestic waste everyday in five zones of the city. For most residents, rubbish collections take place once a fortnight.

The challenge

Until 2010 Exeter City Council had no coherent information system to track and plan bin collections, or to deal with missed bins. Lorry drivers often didn’t have written notification of missed bins and work plans were not up-to-date. Crews were not being used at full efficiency because of the lack of information and this meant that time was wasted on duplicated journeys.

The only means for residents to report a missed bin was to call the Council’s customer advisors. The advisors would then contact the crews by radio so it took considerable time to establish where the missed bins were and there was no way of knowing whether they were genuinely missed. The volume of customer calls and the length of the calls meant that the phone lines would become very busy and customers could not always get through to an advisor.

In the absence of an electronic information system the crews recorded, on paper, why some bins were not emptied. However, customer advisors rarely referred to these paper records to find the reason for non-collection and simply sent the crews back for 100% of bins reported by the public as missed. This happened whether it was the fault of the crew or the resident which caused stress for the crews being sent  back through no fault of their own, and also led to high levels of operational inefficiency.

The satellite solution

In 2011, Exeter City Council prepared a business case to invest in mobile and web-based technologies to develop an information system for managing bin collections and to reduce the length of the communication chain. The Council’s Waste Management team won some internal funding, which was matched by external funds won by a bid to the South West Regional Efficiency and Improvement Partnership.

This funding enabled the Council to equip all its waste collection vehicles with Satellite enabled systems, as well as to develop a self-service tool to report missed bins online. Thanks to this new technology the crews are able to report reasons for non-collections on the satellite devices in their cabs, and this information is used in real time to work out a suitable response to customers, either explaining why and what to do if the Council is not returning a bin the customer thinks has been missed, or by raising a service request instantly in the cab where the crew has genuinely missed a bin.

The results

Today, drivers responsible for bin collections in Exeter receive their daily work on their satellite devices in the cab, and can press a button to record when collections have been completed, or reasons for non-collections. They can also sign into another crew’s work to help each other out, especially in the event of vehicle breakdowns. Supervisors can monitor progress in the back office, or from a tablet when they are on the move.

All relevant information is made available to the Council’s online form 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so that when customers or advisors want to report a missed bin they simply need to enter their address into the form. The form provides an instant response either advising the customer that the Council will be returning for a genuinely missed bin, or telling the customer why the crew did not empty their bin and what to do about it. The Council now returns for less than 30% of reported missed bins that were genuinely missed by the crew. The number of missed bins is continually reducing as the crews learn more and more to rely on the technology rather than their memories. The satellite-based system is also used by Exeter City Council to deliver and remove waste bins. Before the adoption of the new system, it frequently took more 10 days to fulfil bin orders – the average order fulfilment time has been reduced to less than five days.

Overall, the satellite-based system enabled the service to save time, to better organise waste collection, and do more with less, with no need to purchase new lorries or to hire new staff even though the Council will have absorbed 3,000 new homes since 2011 and is on track to absorb up to another 4,000 new home within existing resources. For an initial investment of £240k, the Council estimates that the system and new ways of working has generated £340k capital savings and £470k in revenue savings since its implementation.

Exeter City Council has been sharing this experience with other Local Authorities, and is currently working with two other local authorities in the South West to adopt the satellite-based system.

Our information system integrated with satellite navigation is helping Exeter to provide digital services to Exeter residents to keep Exeter a clean and safe City,  and enhance communication between residents and the City Council”, Lesley Rapley, Environment – Cleansing Services, Exeter City Council