Turning trash bins into hotspots for info and money

Asia’s first solar-powered, Wi-Fi emitting trash bins take to the streets of Singapore in a new demonstration of Internet-of-Things technology.

Terra Sol Bigbelly bins
Terra Sol co-founder Jason Kumar with one of the 10 solar-powered, Wi-Fi-enabled trash bins deployed on Singapore's Orchard Road.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure goes the adage, but the new rubbish bins along Singapore’s most renowned shopping district are both.

Ten solar-powered, Internet-of-Things (IoT) enabled, revenue-generating trash bins have been rolled out in a new pilot project on Orchard Road. 

Known as Bigbelly bins for their ability to compact and hold up to eight times more trash than regular bins, the ones deployed in the pilot project have been customised to include solar panels on their tops to take advantage of Singapore’s abundance of sunlight to power their operations. 

The bins are also fitted with sensors so they can measure the amount of resistance from trash when compacting and therefore calculate how much extra rubbish it can hold. Once full, they can send a message to alert cleaners or operators that they need to be emptied. 

Besides that, they also come with a odour-masking function and block out rain and air from entering, making dealing with the trash less unpleasant. 

Jason Kumar, co-founder of Terra Sol which holds the exclusive distribution rights to the bins for Southeast Asia and deals with outdoor IoT solutions, said that these upgraded bins are a more sustainable answer to the regular dustbins because they have a greater capacity and only need to be emptied when full - thus saving on manpower and emissions from garbage collection trucks. 

Currently, trash cans along Orchard Road are emptied at fixed times each day regardless of how much garbage is in them.

Another key highlight of the Bigbelly bins and a boon to local merchants isthe fact that the receptacles function as free Wi-Fi hotspots and advertising platforms along the stretch of Orchard Road between the Wisma Atria and Mandarin Gallery shopping centres. 

Users within a 30m radius of a bin can connect to the Wi-Fi network and log in by following the provided instructions. On top of being able to surf the Internet, users will also be able to see special offers and discounts offered by Orchard Road retailers, which pay to have their promotions featured. 

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is also hosting a survey that Wi-Fi users must complete in order to access the Internet, which is targeted at tourists for information gathering. 

Although there are more than 40,000 Bigbelly smart bins in over 100 cities, the 10 bins on Orchard Road are the only ones in the Asia with both solar and hotspot capabilities. Terra Sol imports customisable versions of the Bigbelly bin and installed the solar and hotspot capabilities in Singapore.

Terra Sol is currently already running five separate trials with Bigbelly bins in different locations across Singapore, though these are not Wi-Fi enabled. 

Asked why Terra Sol had decided to offer free Wi-Fi, its director Joseph Tan told Eco-Business that it was a request made by STB during discussions.

He explained: “Orchard Road is well-built and adding infrastructure is inconvenient, so they hoped to be able to provide Wi-Fi in a non-intrusive way.”

The fact that Wi-Fi capabilities in a Bigbelly bin had been trialled before in New York’s Times Square eventually led to Terra Sol’s current version of the Bigbelly bins for Orchard Road. 

The bins are so customisable that they could even one day be used to measure pollution, said Kumar. 

Tan said to Eco-Business that when it comes to IoT, as long as there is power and Internet connectivity, it was possible to add as much capability as desired because the amount of data transmitted by sensors in, for instance, providing air quality readings would be small. 

However Terra Sol currently has no plans to do so. 

The trial, sponsored by YTL Singapore, is set to run for three months before Terra Sol will reevaluate the performance of the bins with key partner agencies including STB, the National Environment Agency, Orchard Road Business Association, and StarHub. 

Ruth Yeoh, executive director of YTL Singapore, said the bins would promote environmentally conscious behaviour and encourage the public to better protect the earth. 

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