What we do
Along with Smart Cities, my for-profit social enterprise, MobiCycle Ltd, is generally known for 'smart' bins. MobiCycle's waste containers, MobiBins, are designed to hold abandoned electronics and electricals. The IoT versions of MobiBins, with their embedded sensors and internet connectivity, are undoubtedly smart. Are you aware, however, that MobiCycle retrofits most industrial waste containers with sensors and low power, wide area connections? Sensors4Bins by MobiCycle can transform your standard industrial waste bin into a smart bin. Smart bins are not a new concept, however. Several firms offer them.
Many smart bin companies rely on fill-level sensors with ultrasonic and infrared capabilities as their main selling point. The more ambitious operators may combine ultrasonic & infrared sensors with geo-location/GPS, temperature and tilt sensors for added impact. The benefits to fill level sensors are reasonably tested and documented in trials across Europe, Asia, et al.
Fill level sensors send out a signal every so often to determine the height of the trash contained within the bin. As trash accumulates, the wireless transceiver streams data to an online dashboard. When the trash reaches a desired volume or height, the bin triggers an alert, and the system schedules a collection. The city of Glasgow in Scotland, for example, recently announced a pilot for smart bins. Despite the hype, the big problem troubling waste sectors globally is not the fill level of trash within a given container.
What keeps many (if not most) councils and waste collectors up at night is the degree of purity of the collected waste; i.e., the amounts of mixed or commingled waste. Commingling results when consumers combine ‘incompatible’ waste streams such as dry with wet waste, glass with paper, or electronics with food. Per Sarfaraz Khan, the Joint Commissioner for solid waste management in Bengaluru, India, “The problem is not with collection but with sending mixed waste to these units. Any amount of composting we try to do will generate smell and there will be protests.” What can be done? The typical mistake made by local councils and waste companies is to vacillate between 'carrots' and 'sticks'.
Sticks generally refer to legal incentives to reduce waste. On the positive side, Italy and France passed laws in 2016 to make it easier for surplus food stock to be donated rather than binned. Post Brexit grumblings are beginning to emerge in the UK, however. Some have expressed concerns that environmental standards may be compromised in the pursuit of new trade deals. Given the transient nature of environmental laws, perhaps financial incentives (aka carrots) present a safer bet?
Put another way, can coupons or cash encourage people to avoid commingling their waste? Despite the prevalence of finance schemes, we continue to see recycling rates stagnate or decline. In 2010, just 36% of total waste production in the EU was recycled, amounting to 2,5 billion tons. The rest was landfilled or burned. As Ian Yolles of US headquartered Recyclebank admits, ″We were focused at first on providing financial incentives to motivate consumers. However, different people are motivated in different ways. We′re now experimenting with social currency and information currency to motivate behavioral change.″
At MobiCycle, we recognise that effective behavioural change requires convenient solutions. We stand by the notion that, for many consumers, time and effort generally trump financial incentives(carrots) or fear of legal sanctions(sticks). That's why we engage consumers at home via spoken conversations. Our smart home solution, E(lectronic) Advisor, is launching worldwide via leading providers such as Amazon(Alexa), Google(Home) and Apple(HomeKit). E-Advisor is a conversational agent that guides consumers through a seamless process to repair, recycle or sell their electronics. Nevertheless, an emphasis on changing consumer behaviour is not enough to reduce commingling.
We nudge corporate and public sector clients to align their smart bin/sensor choices with their overall waste strategy. Too often, we witness procurement decisions underpinned by secondary considerations such as the sensor's dimensions, power consumption or unit cost - none of which fundamentally impacts the bin's ability to recognise or take action against commingling. Admittedly, low power, ultrasonic sensors costing six British pounds (ten US dollars) per unit may suffice if your primary goal is to avoid overflowing waste bins.
But maybe you want to know the weight of the waste in your bin prior to collection, to understand how effective your recycling marketing campaigns are within a five block radius? Perhaps you want to be confident your truck will be able to complete its designated collection route because the weight of the trash along that route does not exceed the vehicle's carrying capacity?
Or, perhaps you want to determine which damaged newspaper recycling bin let in rain before your next bulk collection? We help you avoid contaminating dry papers located within multiple functioning recycling bins, with wet papers from one damaged bin. This sensor add-on eventually pays for itself because the alternative- wet paper- has no resale value. For these key considerations and others, you may want to consider a pilot with MobiCycle. Our pilots cover not only smart bins and the smart home. We also offer visualisation tools.
Like other smart bin companies, our online dashboard offers exceptional insights. We stream data in real time to platforms such as IBM's Bluemix. IBM's Predictive Analytics service on Bluemix not only defines models. The algorithms predict behaviour to save you time and money during your pilot phase and beyond. Just as we help our clients choose smart bin sensors to effectively tackle commingling, we also help clients assemble software packages equipped to confront some of the world's most wicked problems around waste.
So whether you choose fill level sensors from our competitors or tonnage sensors et al by MobiCycle, my overriding message is that the benefits of smart bins are substantial. As SunBeom Gwon, CEO and founder of South Korean based Ecube Labs summarises, "If the 5,000 bins around Seoul are replaced with our bins, waste removal will decrease by over 20% within a year and a half. This, effectively, is the same as planting 150,000 trees around Seoul by decreasing CO2 emissions from reducing fleet operations for waste removal." Wonderful stats, yes? To extend Ecube Labs' upbeat vibe, I conclude by revealing MobiCycle's unique value proposition.
Our social impact
First and foremost, MobiCycle's secret sauce is our commitment to recognising and accepting the unique pain points among consumers, the public sector and the industry. Second, we evaluate potential solutions based more on the degree to which they address the most pressing challenges; and, less on the seeming elegance of their physicality or ease of implementation. This 'tough road' strategy has paid off.
Over the past four years, we have discovered two things. First, that the journey taken by electronics and other goods is riddled with weak or broken links in the supply chain. Fixing the waste collector's problem of overflowing bins just fixes that one breakpoint in the chain. That's why we focus on multiple solutions. Second, the overall impact of our portfolio exceeds the sum total of our individual products and services. Simultaneously launching E-Advisor, our 'smart home' conversational agent, with MobiBins and Sensors4Bins can help mend damaged links that are adjacent to the ones we originally targeted.
For example, E-Advisor asks consumers to rate their experience with their product prior to disposal. E-Advisor relays crucial product insights back to manufacturers, enabling them to design more eco-friendly products. Our portfolio approach reaches beyond the consumer, waste collector and government to concurrently help retailers, manufacturers, and more with their broken links. In this way, we rejuvenate the system; i.e., the circular economy.
As Rasmus Bergström of Sweden-based Stena Technoworld AB stated bluntly during the 2016 World Recycling Forum: Electronics & Cars Recycling event, held in Macau, China, in mid-November “There is a gap in the circle; it’s not closed.” Despite the extensive hurdles facing startups in waste, MobiCycle remains committed to a portfolio approach as a way to close the gaps in our global, circular, economy. Won't you join us?