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Inside City Hall: Are you ready for “smart” garbage cans?

Possessing radio-transmitting tracking devices, the cans are slated to go under trial next year

smart garbage cans

Baltimore: The city of white marble steps – and designer garbage cans? Example of the winning vendor’s wares.

Photo by: Toter LLC

Just as we were getting used to the idea of “smart” water meters and their hefty price tag, up pops a contract for “smart” garbage cans.

The Board of Estimates yesterday approved a $578,000 pilot program for the manufacture and delivery of 9,250 garbage cans equipped with RFID (radio frequency identification) tags to two inner-city neighborhoods.

City Hall’s aims for these 65-gallon containers are downright lofty – not just to be safe from marauding can thieves courtesy of embedded computer chips or bar codes, but also to improve garbage management by monitoring individual can usage, reduce rat infestation, ease alleyway litter and promote recycling and sustainability.

If the pilot proves a success – something that won’t be known for about 18 months – the city wants to wheel out smart cans to the remaining 190,000 household users.

The projected total cost – $10.55 million, or about $53 per can.

“Upscale” Designer Cans?

The new cans are being touted not only for their smarts and sustainability, but for their aesthetic appeal.

Toter LLC of Statesville, N.C., is pushing the city to order rollout carts clad in a special plastic that resembles granite.

The vendor describes such carts as “the most upscale look, just like granite counter tops.”

“Cities and their residents love Toter ‘Granite’ colors,” the bid proposal says, going on to describe a number of special treatments, such as “Toter Green Granite,” before appealing to city officials to aspire even higher.

The vendor selected to deliver the "smart" garbage cans is promoting a unique granite color scheme for the city's trash receptacles. (Toter, Inc., bid document)

The vendor proposes “a beautiful new color” for the trash receptacles. (Toter, Inc., bid document)

“Let’s work together,” the bid proposal suggests, “to design a beautiful new color, ‘BALTIMORE GRANITE,’ that makes a unique statement about the City.”

As in the case of the tracking technology, the city hasn’t yet settled on any specific color or treatment. But the Bureau of Solid Waste has decided what neighborhoods will receive the cans for testing, which could begin as early as next March.

The bulk (6,601 cans) will be delivered to households in Belair-Edison and the adjoining Four-by-Four community east of Clifton Park.

A smaller contingent (2,552) will be assigned to dwellings around Mondawmin Mall, including Parkview/Woodbrook and Burleith/Leighton.

Residents will be asked to use the cans for all their garbage disposal needs. Accompanying the cans will be 25-gallon bins to be used for plastic, paper, bottles and other recyclable trash.

By supplying free containers to all residential addresses, the city’s garbage chief, Valentina Ukwuoma, hopes to curtail the age-old Baltimore practice of tossing garbage into the alleys, sometimes in plastic bags, sometimes not.

Dead rats (foreground) and partly gnawed plastic garbage bags in a North Baltimore alley yesterday. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

A Baltimore tradition: dead rats (foreground) and partly gnawed plastic garbage bags. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Automated Collection

The cans will sport grabber bars to allow sanitation workers to set the containers on metal lifts to raise and dump the contents into the truck – another innovation pushed by Ukwuoma.

The city will equip 11 of its 91 garbage trucks with such can-grabbing devices, at $5,000 per installation.

The “automated” collection system is designed to increase the efficiency of pickups and decrease the number of workers’ compensation claims arising from employees injured while lifting cans or tossing bags into the trucks.

The roll-out carts will also make it easier for citizens to maneuver than traditional waste containers, the city says.

Mixed Record

The lift system has been tried, with varying degrees of success, in smaller cities. In Toledo, high-tech pickups were abandoned after a flurry of logistical snafus and citizen complaints.

A key factor in making the system work is the placement of the carts at the right spot for pickups. The narrowness of many city alleyways will add to the logistical challenge.

Will smart garbage cans reduce the prevalence of illegal dumping? (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Will smart garbage cans reduce the prevalence of illegal dumping? (Photo by Mark Reutter)

The two communities under test generally have alleys 13 feet and wider. Solid Waste says its pilot program will include literature on the do’s and don’ts of smart garbage collection.

Anger at Board of Estimates

The pilot program was not without its melodrama yesterday.

Two bidders who lost the contract, Otto Environmental Systems and Rehrig Pacific Co., angrily protested before the spending board, while Arnold Jolivet, executive director of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association, denounced the process as “corruption at its worst.”

The parties charged that Toter was not the low bidder, but that the Bureau of Purchases had recalculated the company’s price to arrive at its recommendation for the award.

Reviewing the bid records, The Brew found that the low bidder was IPL Inc., a Canadian company, followed by Rehrig Pacific (whose bid was rejected as “non-responsive” by the Law Department), followed by Toter and Otto Environmental.

The IPL bid came in at $723,547.50 – or under half Toter’s price of $1,859,579.

Recalculated Bids

But the direct bid prices were not used by the Bureau of Purchases.

Timothy Krus, the agency’s head, told the board that the bid prices were recalculated based on the city’s needs for the pilot program and the cost of maintenance of the cans.

The recalculations resulted in Toter’s bid being recommended as the lowest price subject to the vendor coming into compliance with the city’s MBE/WBE (minority and women’s business) goals, Krus said.

Krus said that Toter’s “MBE/WBE dollar amounts and percentages are mathematically inconsistent with the bidder’s price,” and its WBE selection, Pengiun Staffing, was not certified with Baltimore City.

Krus said the protesting bidders also failed to meet the minority and women’s goals.

After debate was cut off by City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, the spending board approved the contract, 4-0, with Comptroller Joan Pratt abstaining.

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  • haribusy

    In order to control the Rat population sealed cans would be good. The type of metal can that most residents seem to use don’t seal after their first or second dented toss by the trash collectors. Are the locations they are being implemented in those with the highest rat problems?

  • baltimorebrew

    The two communities do have rat problems, but are not the worst in the city (check out upper Highlandtown or parts of Charles Village). The areas were selected, according to the city, because of their mixed demographics, generally wide alleys and active neighborhood associations. -mr

  • davethesuave

    please tell me SRB is NOT going to put her name on these. i am still amazed Sheila Nixon put her name on the recycle cans,
    O’Malley put his name on overnight sleeping benches, and
    Schaefer ate at Jimmy’s.

    • baltimorebrew

      RE Sheila: We sure found out that she was pro-green.

      • davethesuave

        Touche!

      • davethesuave

        Note to editor, and anyone over the age of 50: My original note above called Sheila Dixon “Sheila Nixon”. It shows up now in the weekly round-up as Dixon. However, “Nixon” was Not a typo. They’re both crooks.

        • baltimorebrew

          Dixon/Nixon: very subtle. We fixed in “Best of” post.

          • davethesuave

            “Very subtle”: reminds me of that shampoo commercial, “Sometimes you need a little Finesse,
            Sometimes a Lot!”
            That’s me, I got a ton of subtles.

  • Andrew

    Ahh, more shopping sprees!

  • cwals99

    If you know that VEOLA WATER and WASTE intends to privatize public water and waste you can see what the Smart Meters will bring. You are going to have yet another commodity hitting Wall Street and market speculation and with that rates that will go as high as the market will handle. That’s when subsidies end and rationing begins as private Exelon and VEOLA use Smart Meters to give what you can pay. Charging for trash pickup by the pound? YOU BETCHA!

    We need people fighting all of this privatization of public services. You know how consumers lose every time they do! Corporate welfare has consumers paying all the cost of operations while the profits soar!

    • Guest

      Everywhere I’ve lived (PA) has private trash collection.

      • bmorepanic

        Trash collection is included in our taxes. It’s part of why we pay twice as much tax as our county neighbors.

        • River Mud

          That, and I believe that almost all of our landfill sites are nearing capacity. Not so in Balt County or AA County (they’ll get there in 30 years).

        • ham_snadwich

          There is no big long list of what’s included in our taxes.

  • bmorepanic

    It sounds like preparation for charging for trash pickup. That is the only meaningful purpose for rfid chips. Or do you truly believe that baltimore police will sweep the town with rfid readers looking for stolen trash cans.

    Trash cans probably blow away or have their lids suffer traffic accidents more than they are stolen.

    • alexbenjm

      Those type of trash cans are too heavy when empty to be blown away, and the lids are hinged, they won’t fall off.

      My guess is if a trash can is stolen, it would be put to use to hold the thief’s trash and the garbage trucks will be able to identify whether the can belongs to the address it is found at.

      • bmorepanic

        I’ve seen both things where I’ve seen this type of trash can in Virginia townships. I think you may underestimate the care of our trash professionals, the ability of the weather to fling things and what happens when plastic is impacted by 3,000 pounds of moving vehicle going 40 mph.

        Behind us, there is a mighty narrow alley (10-11 feet) with no extra space at all. I think the trash truck itself will put paid to a lot of cans.

        I really don’t mind the can that fits a lifter device as much as the expensive chipping of the cans. It would be a lot cheaper to just spec a lifter can and let everyone provide their own. The only reason for the chip is to charge people. No software, no hardware, no “intelligent trash predicitions” or billing programs to screw up. No subsidizing another corporation.

        • ham_snadwich

          RFID chips shouldn’t cost more than a few cents per can.

          • bmorepanic

            You should read their marketing materials – these are a bit more expensive than buying the same thing (chipless of course) at the big box stores. They make it sound like their can is so special when its actually the same as any other can of that size with a lifter. It’s the defense brochure for when somebody asks why they have to pay so much for a trash can.

            And the tags need tag readers. The output of the readers goes into software and its output is usually billing information. So, dpw needs customer service reps, equipment to access the software and custom programming to export the output to a billing system that doesn’t exist yet. Oh, and rfid repair contracts, help line contracts, etc.

          • ham_snadwich

            The chip itself doesn’t change the price of the can appreciably. If they’re spreading the cost of implementation and support over the cost of the can purchase, that’s fine, it’s just a different way accounting.
            I’m not sure what your argument here is. New programs cost money?

    • River Mud

      Ding ding, winner. American municipalities as a whole are beginning to look at doing away with the flat fee for garbage disposal. The goal would eventually be to charge residents by the pound, which, in a perfect world, you must admit, makes a lot of sense (burning and landfilling trash costs taxpayers money). One Baltimore-specific problem is that pay-per-pound trash may indeed exacerbate the existing illegal dumping problem. That’d be my #1 concern.

    • Rich

      RFID tags only indicate that the garbage truck was near a particular garbage bin at a certain time. They cannot be used to see what people put into containers or aide in weighing of trash for payment by the pound. (Every truck would have to be fitted with a calibrated scale, a costly endeavor I can’t forsee happening in the coming decades!)

      RFID tags help only the collection company be efficient and ensure that your trash is picked up by the drivers. Stop the conspiracy theories!

      • bmorepanic

        Not to be disrepectful, but how long have you lived here? There have been recent studies and attempts to bid out trash collection before (meaning in the last ten years). It failed because the companies refused to bid – they couldn’t do trash collection as cheaply as DPW is doing it now.

        Exactly what is the city doing with this contract?

        Because it won’t help with rats or keeping streets and alleys cleaner or stop people who don’t use trash cans now or make landlords behave properly or allow use of reasonable priced trash cans available anywhere. I think we can all agree that rfid tags are certainly not to track down stolen cans.

        And if the contractor is doing it to “check and see if the can was picked up”, my question would be why? Wouldn’t you assume I just hadn’t put one out?

        It’s not possible for me to imagine what can possibly be wrong with this contract nor whatever scheme is behind it.

  • ushanellore

    I got me a smart can–
    for garbage collection–
    it ain’t one of those beat up things
    from a Walmart selection–

    of “Made in God knows where!”

    It ain’t a smelly plastic container–
    an heirloom from grandma’s wares–
    it ain’t a magnet for rodents, roaches,
    snakes and other reptilian poachers,
    it ain’t susceptible to thieves or interlopers,
    it ain’t available for homeless paupers–
    it ain’t even within sight of inveterate shoppers–

    I got me a smart can for garbage collection–
    If you thought nothing good comes out of North Carolina–
    It’s time to change your mind–
    Open your eyes, expand your vision–
    that state has been much maligned–
    it ain’t the back waters

    or a boondoggle–
    it ain’t just cows and cornrows–
    it ain’t just flailing scarecrows–
    or field upon field of rotting tobacco–
    it’s up and coming in garbage collection–
    on the cusp of a rustic revolution–
    its ingenuity deserving approbation–
    stand up and applaud its innovation–

    I got me a smart can–
    for garbage collection–
    from the Bureau of Solid Waste–
    one of those specialty departments
    every city possesses–

    named appropriately–not in haste–
    don’t dwell on cost as a deterrent–
    when you look closely it will be apparent–
    that nothing good comes of cheapness–
    this is a thoroughbred out of Preakness–
    an Arabian steed among dwarfs–
    a prince among panhandlers–
    go out and embrace it–
    show it passion–

    I got me a smart can–
    for garbage collection–
    it ain’t one of those beat up things
    from a Walmart selection
    of “Made in God knows where!”

    Usha Nellore

    • davethesuave

      i’ll tip my fedora
      to those who can weave
      rhapsody
      out of rubbish
      pulling poems
      from her sleeve

      Thanks Usha Nellore
      a smile to start the weekend
      is what I’m thankful for
      and what my heart
      was seeking.

  • Valerie

    Where does the MBE/WBE come into play? None of these cart manufacturers are either. If they’re using an MBE/WBE distributor, that’s just adding cost – the City should be able to go direct. I think whoever stated that it’s a pre-cursor to “Pay As You Throw” (PAYT) is on target. Much of the City’s trash is burned at BRESCO so it’s not a landfill capacity issue.

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