Woking runs pilot container weigh & ID scheme

The possibility of legislation to introduce payment by weight or volume in waste collection and recycling, allied with the increasing demand from local authority and private sector waste management for accurate information, are driving factors in the growth of ever more sophisticated weighing systems. In this feature LAWE reports on the latest developments in this sector including a case study from Sulo on a pilot scheme in Woking

Woking Borough Council has adopted Sulo's container weighing and identification system for a pilot scheme to boost doorstep recycling rates. Initial findings from the data generated by the Sulo system indicate a substantial increase in the volume of recyclables collected: the pilot scheme is achieving more than double the recycling rate of the rest of the borough. The scheme is part of the council's progressive waste management policy, which integrates with a climate change strategy that is recognised as one of the most well-developed in the UK.

To increase the amount of plastic bottles, cardboard, paper and cans able to be recycled, Woking Borough Council has introduced a trial "twin-bin" scheme for around 6,000 households in the borough. The scheme replaces standard plastic sacks. Now black Sulo bins are designated for general residual waste, with blue bins for the dry recyclables. Both types of bin, 240 litre models, have been fitted with Sulo's radio frequency (RF) chips which identify the individual households to which the bins have been supplied.

'On the ground' measurement

The Sulo system is used to gather accurate, "on the ground", data on the effectiveness of the pilot scheme by measuring, by weight, how much waste each household is generating. The council can then identify the recycling ratio. The comb-lift devices on the collection vehicles are fitted with antennas that reads the RF chips, together with automatic digital "catch weighers" to weigh the bins as they are being lifted - a process called dynamic weighing because it does not interrupt the lifting operation. The container identification number and weight is automatically fed into an onboard computer in the truck cab where the information is stored together with the date and time of the emptying, on a data card (RAM card).

The system control panel on the rear of the vehicle also has a keypad with specially designed icons to indicate faults on the bins, such as broken lids or damaged wheels. As the bin is brought to the vehicle for emptying, the operator simply presses the appropriate icon and the details of the fault are logged into the on-board RAM card.

Every two days the Council's Environmental Services team removes the RAM card from the vehicle computer and downloads the data onto an office PC.

Pinpointing low recycling

As well as generating information on the recycling ratios achieved in the scheme, the data also pinpoints households where recycling levels are low. This enables the council to target educational programmes more effectively, through its Neighbourhood Teams which are promoting the "environmental responsibility" message throughout the borough. The council has already embarked upon an ambitious campaign to push the benefits of the new twin-bin scheme, with a series of high-impact leaflets, detailed and easily-accessible information on the borough website, and several roadshows conducted in association with Sulo.

"The Sulo weigh and ID system is an ideal tool for gauging the participation in the new scheme," says Dave Ward, Woking Borough Council's Head of Environmental Services. "It also gives us a very accurate log of the whole refuse collection operation. The fault-reporting system is a boon too, giving us a real-time trace of the state of each and every bin in the system. "

Initial data indicates that the households participating in the pilot scheme are achieving recycling ratios of as much as 33%, compared with a borough-wide figure, excluding bring sites, of 15%. This means that the pilot scheme is already close to achieving the Government's target of a 36% recycling rate by 2006.

In the pilot scheme, which currently involves around 16% of the households in the borough, the black and blue Sulo bins are emptied on alternate weeks. The council has found that fortnightly collections yield higher recycling rates, in some cases nearly double, than weekly collections.

"With this arrangement, residents are giving more thought to recycling," Dave Ward reports. "Another benefit is that we have not had to expand our refuse collection fleet to accommodate the recycling initiative. We can use the same vehicles for general refuse and recyclables. Thus vehicles emissions are reduced even further." The whole waste management operation is geared to reducing the amount of refuse going to landfill, and the new recycling initiative complements schemes already in place for collecting compostable waste. Since 2000, the borough's overall recycling rate, including bring sites, has doubled, to around 26%.

"The pilot twin-bin scheme certainly points the way forward," says Dave Ward. "The easier it is for people to recycle, the more they will recycle. And the Sulo system provides an excellent way of monitoring the progress of new doorstep initiatives. It will also, of course, be invaluable if and when the government introduces a pay-by-weight system, with recycling credits, as is the norm in many countries on the Continent."

Woking Borough Council is recognised as being one of the UK leaders in developing strategies to combat the causes of Climate Change, and has already been granted the Queen's Award for Enterprise for its environmental projects. These have included:

  • the use of Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems in Council properties
  • the development of a town centre CHP energy station to produce environmentally friendly energy services for public buildings and businesses
  • the establishment of the UK's first fuel cell CHP
  • the use of combined photovoltaic and CHP.
  • The council has also set up Thameswey, a wholly-owned energy and environmental services company, to promote energy efficiency and conservation and to develop new technologies to supply energy.


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