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Bin day. Sigh. If you’re anything like me, you’re lying in bed when you hear the bin lorry approaching and it dawns on you haven’t taken out your bins. Then comes the mad panic where you race outside, have a sneaky look at your neighbours to see what’s being collected and then hurl the offending bin at the pavement.

It was just such an occasion recently when I was half asleep putting out my general waste bin when I realised it was pretty much empty. Surely it must be such a waste (pun intended!) to collect half empty rubbish bins? And I can’t be the only one, smaller households, the elderly or couples without children, must struggle to fill up their bins before collection. There must be a better way?

kerb-side waste bin collection

One of the biggest consumer trends in recent years has been the ‘on-demand economy’ – where companies fulfill consumer demand via the immediate provisioning of goods or services. It has spread across many industries: transportation (e.g. Uber and Lyft), travel and lodging (e.g. Airbnb), food delivery (e.g. Deliveroo) and even on-demand laundry.

Could we apply the on-demand business model to municipal waste collection?

Click for collection


waste collection app

What if each household had a connected device that they could press when their bins were full and needed collecting? Like an Amazon Dash button but for waste. This would alert the council that your bins needed emptying and they could use data analytics to plot the most efficient route for collection. Would this result in less bin collections overall and so become more efficient and less costly over time?

While some may think this idea is far off, American-based Rubicon Global already has plans to launch an app that will offer on-demand trash pick-up – similar to Uber’s app service, the company has even hired the former CTO of Uber, Oscar Salazar, as its chief technology adviser to help the launch. Rubicon, which has a network of independent waste haulers, current collects commercial waste but they are now moving to consumers, offering a waste pick-up in around 30 minutes.

And it’s not all about commercial waste collection. Spoiler Alert, another American start-up, targets food waste with a software platform that helps business manage unsold inventory. They connect companies with surplus food (like retailers) to non-profits that are looking for donations.

A new business model

The so-called ‘Uber for waste’ industry is coming. The waste industry has been dominated and controlled by a few large companies for many years, which means that these new companies have the potential to drive significant change. Rubicon, like Uber, doesn’t own any bin lorries of its own. Its service connects people who want to get rid of waste with people who can take it away. But all of these new companies vying for this space offer the same thing – they can make money by providing the market with increased efficiency compared to the traditional businesses.

Amy King

Amy is an analyst in the Strategy, Innovation and Process group working across the Industrial, Consumer and Energy campaigns.