How Bigbelly Evolved from a Waste-Management Firm to an IoT Company

The fast-growing business hopes to leverage a piece of vital urban infrastructure—the public waste bin—into a tool for deploying smart-city applications.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

This process entailed integrating a cellular modem into the bin, which transmits fullness data to Bigbelly's enterprise waste-management software platform, known as CLEAN. Customers can log into this platform via an online portal to check specific bins' fullness levels prior to setting a given day's collection routes. A sensor system determines fullness level by measuring the pressure against the compaction ram arm.

Conversely, for Bigbelly bins lacking the integrated compactor (sold as Smartbelly bins), an ultrasonic proximity sensor determines the fill level. In both cases, the bins also include a sensor that tracks the number of times a particular bin's main compartment is opened and closed. This data, along with timestamps correlating to the door's opening and closing actions, is periodically forwarded to the CLEAN software so that the collection agency can confirm when bins are emptied. Using an application programming interface, an end user can opt to integrate the CLEAN software within its own enterprise waste-management platform, thereby eliminating the need to log into Bigbelly's online portal.

A Bigbelly bin located in a park
Armed with the ability to check fullness levels remotely, collection agencies can achieve more significant labor savings, as well as save fuel by not having to make a trip to a bin until it needs to be emptied. "Our customers report an average of 80 percent efficiency gained by having real-time remote access to this data," Kutner says.

All of the sensors, the compacting ram and the modem, Kutner explains, are powered by a small 12-volt battery that "we're constantly trickle-charging" through a solar panel mounted on each bin. Bigbelly has optimized the system to be extremely efficient, he says, such that the bins are powered even during periods of very low light. When the battery is nearing the end of its lifecycle, the processor inside the bin sends a low-battery alert via the CLEAN platform.

In 2008, the company began offering Bigbelly (and now also Smartbelly) recycling bins, and Kutner reports that roughly half of his customers opt to install recycling bins alongside trash bins. More recently, the firm introduced composting bins as well.

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