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RecycleSmart earns awards, plans smart sensor expansion

RecycleSmart, a Richmond-based provider of smart waste diversion, organic capture and recycling m...

IMAGE: RecycleSmart's Pello sensor in use in a dumpster

RecycleSmart’s Pello sensor is in use in a waste bin. (Courtesy RecycleSmart)

RecycleSmart, a Richmond-based provider of smart waste diversion, organic capture and recycling management technology, has been named a recipient of the inaugural Canada’s Top 50 New Innovators Award from Canadian Business.

It was also recently named the 17th annual B.C. Top Employers’ List.

The company was founded in 2008 by the husband and wife team of Jaclyn McPhadden and Colin Bell as a waste management consultancy firm for businesses in the hospitality industry.

At first, the company purchased its waste sensors from the U.S. and Europe; but RecycleSmart began to develop its own over the last three-and-a-half years.

Bells says the company’s internal development was made possible thanks to the lowered costs of IoT devices over the past few years, aided by some funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada – a federal fund for clean technology – and the B.C. provincial government.

Pello and its uses

The sensor was officially launched at the end of 2021 with about 1,500 units, called Pello. It’s a cloud-based software platform that measures waste and recycling container fill levels and analyzes their contents. While Bell, now CEO, says that he “doesn’t see immediate use in the residential market,” some of its clients utilizing Pello include the cities of Edmonton and Victoria and the University of British Columbia.

UBC was the site of its first test run, where it installed 100 sensors.

“The low-hanging fruit is, can we do this more efficiently and save money? Because instead of sending a truck to pick up an empty bin, let’s wait ’til it’s full for fewer truck trips with less cost. Then obviously, fewer truck trips equals less carbon,” Bell said. “With better data on what’s happening, you can also use that data to improve your risk management.”

Improving risk management could take several forms. Data could show your waste stream generates too much of a certain kind of material, so you can then plan to divert it. Or it might simply mean there’s material in your recycling bin that shouldn’t be there.

The “secret sauce,” as Bell calls it, is the ultrasonic sensor that allows for detecting fill levels. Bell said RecycleSmart “is the first company that combines those sensors with cameras on a single device.”

The Pello sensor also contains an accelerometer to detect and schedule the exact time the waste is picked up for collection.

The sensors take a photo of the bin contents every three hours, and then those images are fed into a machine learning system to analyze the contents of the container.

Pello was designed to be as simple as possible: a literal black box. The intention is that “out of sight out of mind” will deter vandals from noticing the shiny piece of tech inside a dumpster.

RecycleSmart’s ongoing and future projects

There are three ongoing pilot projects in Vancouver, Victoria and Edmonton, where applications for the sensors are slightly different in terms of what each municipality wants out of the technology. Typically, RecycleSmart aims for the containers to be about 80 per cent full when they are emptied, but “a municipality might be more concerned about overflowing containers; they don’t want to have public litter bins overflowing in busy parks.”

In the wake of its two awards, RecycleSmart’s goals for the rest of the year boil down to tracking and communicating to customers the GHG emissions reductions which the technology can provide.

“A lot of what we’re doing with sensors is, we’re reducing truck miles driven because instead of picking up an empty bin, we’re picking up a full one,” Bell said. “So one of our big goals in 2022 is to start to measure and quantify that.”

Beyond that, the U.S. market awaits. Bell said the company is in active conversations with several mid-sized U.S. cities as potential customers, with a specific announcement expected sometime in the second quarter of this year.

“We want to grow a little bit smarter in the U.S., in terms of not going in and biting off a city that’s an L.A. or a New York or Chicago,” he said.

The company also recently launched its SmartStart pilot program. A city or organization in North America is given five smart containers outfitted with Pello for four months to illustrate how the data is utilized in waste management.

In the past five years, the company has grown to manage over 7,000 waste containers at over 330 sites, and top-line revenue has doubled to close to $40 million in 2021. Over the next five years, RecycleSmart’s goal is to have 95,000 devices deployed across North America.

The criteria for inclusion on the top employers’ list are as follows: physical workplace; work atmosphere & social; health, financial & family benefits; vacation & time off; employee communications; performance management; training & skills development; and community.

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