Bigbelly whetting our appetite for smarter waste management business models
Bigbelly challenges the slow-moving waste management sector with new business models
Does value creation stop at the trash can?
The concept of using waste as a revenue source is not new. For example, municipal solid waste has long been used as feedstock for waste-to-energy facilities that incinerate waste to produce electricity and heat (e.g. for district heating) . Within the Chemical industry, recovery of high-value chemicals from waste streams can serve as a valuable source of income and at the same time eliminates waste disposal costs . Nevertheless, waste management is still seen as a bottom-line issue by the vast majority of businesses and local authorities.
As technologies improve and businesses open up to digitization, Industry 4.0 can bring immense benefits to the waste management sector. Robotics and further automation of manufacturing processes can reduce waste during manufacturing and improve resource recovery during the afterlife stage of a product. IoT and data analytics can be deployed to collect and analyze data about the quantity and composition of waste streams, optimize logistics and provide additional sources of revenues .
Moving from Waste Management to Smart City solutions
Bigbelly started off in 2003 as a waste management company based out of Needham, MA. Their first solution was a solar-powered trash compacting bin that could handle 5x more trash than conventional bins of the same size, increasing capacity and thus reducing frequency of waste collection (,). In the years that followed, Bigbelly transitioned from compacting waste containers to a cloud-based platform that allowed more efficient waste and recycling collection. This platform monitored bin capacity using sensors and offered automated real-time collection notifications and additional insights into the waste operation .
Now, Bigbelly has completely transformed itself to a “Smart Waste Management, Smart City, and Internet of Things (IoT) industry leader” through a multi-purpose platform that delivers smart city applications as an add-on to their core waste management offering. Their latest solution is a subscription-based platform that combines waste management for cleaner living spaces and improved streetscape aesthetics with additional capabilities such as WiFi, a location-based beacon network and people counting sensors.
Moving forward: a waste management or a connectivity provider?
The logical question is “what’s next for Bigbelly?”. Will it retain waste management as its core activity or will it focus on the connectivity features of its platform?
The connectivity features of the platform make it an attractive solution for public spaces and offer Bigbelly a competitive advantage compared to conventional waste management systems. In addition to acting as an add-on to Bigbelly’s solution, one can argue that the connectivity feature offers plenty of room for innovation within its waste management functionality.
At this point, the Bigbelly unit can provide information about how much waste is produced and when which allows optimization of the waste collection frequency in combination with traffic information. As sensor technologies and data analytics capabilities improve, the system can collect, analyze and transmit a wealth of information and insights related to e.g. the quantity, composition and value of the collected waste streams. For example, the ability to characterize the composition of a waste stream can provide a more accurate evaluation of its recycling potential and enable Bigbelly to play a key role in efficient resource management in the future – both up- and downstream .
Moving fast forward, imagine a Bigbelly unit that serves the customers and employees of a food court at a shopping mall.
Using sensors, the unit can generate insights about the content of the container. These insights can be used to identify key waste streams and sources and subsequently generate recommendations for waste reduction initiatives for the facility manager and restaurant owners at the mall.
As the container fills up, the unit’s connectivity can be used to communicate with a fleet management software that not only notifies the collection service of the quantity but also matches the quantity and composition of the collected waste to the most suitable waste management facility in the area. The software will then send a driverless garbage truck that will collect the waste and transport it to the identified facility.
The opportunities are endless, and this is why it is important for Bigbelly to use the coming years to develop the right technologies and build the necessary partnerships to bring their solution further.
Additional aspects to consider
- Given its current capabilities and service offering, what partnerships can Bigbelly build besides those with local authorities and facility management businesses to strengthen its value proposition?
- What is Bigbelly’s competitive advantage compared to similar waste management and smart city startups (e.g. Compology, Enevo, Purple WiFi, Filament)? Is Bigbelly’s current scale enough to protect them?
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 Bigbelly. (2017). Bigbelly – Smart City Solutions. [online] Available at: http://bigbelly.com/ [Accessed 16 Nov. 2017].
 Flanders Cleantech Association. (2017). IoT/Industry 4.0 enters the recycling industry. [online] Available at: http://fca.be/en/article/iotindustry-40-enters-recycling-industry [Accessed 16 Nov. 2017].
 Eigus.com. (2017). Could Your Waste Be a Revenue Source?. [online] Available at: http://www.eigus.com/waste-management-blog/2017/june/could-your-waste-be-a-revenue-source-.aspx [Accessed 16 Nov. 2017].
 Eia.gov. (2017). Waste-to-Energy (Municipal Solid Waste) – Energy Explained, Your Guide To Understanding Energy – Energy Information Administration. [online] Available at: https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/?page=biomass_waste_to_energy [Accessed 16 Nov. 2017].
 van den Beukel, J. (2017). Industry 4.0 as an enabler of the Circular Economy: preventing the waste of value and permitting the recovery of value from waste – Sustainability and climate change. [online] Pwc.blogs.com. Available at: http://pwc.blogs.com/sustainability/2017/06/industry-40-as-an-enabler-of-the-circular-economy.html [Accessed 16 Nov. 2017].
 Saidan, M., Drais, A. and Al-Manaseer, E. (2017). Solid waste composition analysis and recycling evaluation: Zaatari Syrian Refugees Camp, Jordan. Waste Management, 61, pp.58-66.
Student comments on Bigbelly whetting our appetite for smarter waste management business models
One thing I wondered about is the impact this has on costs– we hear so often that Industry 4.0 drives efficiency gains which lead frequently to cost savings. I imagine these products are much more expensive than traditional waste management receptacles. But that they expect to generate some savings (largely in labor costs not having to collect as frequently).
What have cities seen in overall net savings? Have these really given them information that they didn’t have (or could estimate with good accuracy from historical patterns) before?
I love that there’s smart innovation in waste management.
One question this brings up for me: what other efficiencies could develop from the act of bringing IoT technologies to the frontend of waste collection?
For instance, could adding recycling separation to the waste bin produce more efficiencies to the recycling supply chain than as it currently occurs, at the end of the supply chain?
My second question: it seems like these trash bins would potentially become thousands of different entry points to a city’s network. What types of security risks do cities face when they introduce hundreds of thousands of new entry points on the edge to their network?