Dylan Severson: Santa Fe’s waste management systems are seeing a lot of changes lately. It’s been hard to miss the new collection carts and robot-armed automated trucks introduced to our streets by the recycling division. But what about behind the scenes? In fact, the latest update to city waste collection manifests not in blue bins, but in bits and bytes.
Shirlene Sitton: Our data systems in Santa Fe, as a whole, are dated. The city is doing some great things towards updating all of its internal systems. This is going to be another step on that.
Dylan Severson: That’s Shirlene Sitton, Director of Santa Fe’s environmental services department. She’s referring to the city’s new partnership agreement with Rubicon Global, a tech firm whose new software platform for municipalities allows waste and recycling crews to document and troubleshoot routes, then kick up the data they’ve collected to the department for broader analysis. Santa Fe will pilot that platform at no cost. When I spoke with Michael [Allegretti] Rubicon’s head of public policy, he summed up Rubicon’s MO and lofty mission.
Michael Allegretti: We’re trying to eradicate landfills. We do that by deploying our technologies to gather data, to help inform better, more sustainable decisions about waste and how to reuse it and keep it out of a landfill.
Dylan Severson: Data driven waste collection is not a new concept, but Sitton says Rubicon’s lean, software-centric approach made it a good fit for Santa Fe.
Shirlene Sitton: A lot of the existing companies rely on a large amount of hardware that’s mounted in the trucks, cameras mounted on the trucks, and that’s great. That works great.
But it’s a large investment.
What Rubicon is doing is using an app on a smartphone, so they’ll be supplying the smartphones which will be checked out by drivers every morning. Everything is done on the app. Using real time GPS data, it’s able to follow the driver’s route and record it to help optimize the route.
Dylan Severson: Though Rubicon has operated in the private sector in all 50 states, mainly helping companies efficiently market waste materials for resale and reuse, their pilot program in Santa Fe represents a branching out into servicing municipalities.
Michael Allegretti: We’ve developed Rubicon for government, a tech platform that helps cities collect data on the waste and recycling habits and practices of actual communities (SmartCity).
The city of Santa Fe will have in each of its 40+ waste and recycling trucks, Rubicon’s technology right on the dashboard.
Dylan Severson: The platform uses a combination of automated readings of variables like truck stops and starts, plus data manually input by crews. For example, workers can log pictures of blocked or contaminated carts. Here’s Shirlene Sitton again with some of the features the app will offer for Santa Fe’s purposes.
Shirlene Sitton: It measures when each stop has been collected and so you can see that real time. You can log in and you want to look at whatever particular truck. Then you can look at that truck and you can see it on a map on the street. You can see where collections have been completed and where it still has to go.
As the drivers either get to the transfer station for recycling or in the landfill for trash, they’ll be entering their tickets in on the system and so we’ll have daily real time information about our tonnages. What did we collect? What are the tonnages on this particular route? Are the tonnages a lot higher on another route? Do we need to adjust that so they’re more even? Are the drivers working overtime on one day and getting through too early on another day? We’ll have real-time information about that.
I will be able to better talk about what say our diversion rates are on a really detailed level. We’ll even know that on a route or day level.
If we get a call “My trash was missed.” Or, it hasn’t been collected yet. The driver can take a picture and say, “This is why I didn’t collect this cart.” Then if the resident calls in, the customer service rep will be able to say “Okay, here’s why your cart wasn’t collected.”
Dylan Severson: Sitton describes the partnership with Rubicon [Global] as mutually beneficial. It’s allowed the city to update its data gathering practices free of charge, while Rubicon gets what Allegretti describes as an ideal testing environment for its new city government oriented platform.
Michael Allegretti: We approached the city of Santa Fe because we see in Santa Fe a city that is right at the cusp of going from good to great, in terms of sustainability. There was a commitment to kind of a new day for recycling in Santa Fe. Rolling out new carts and trucks and things like that.
We saw a great opportunity to approach the city and say, “Let us help you on the tech side. Let us help you on the operations side. And let you help us build a better product, not just for Santa Fe, but for cities across the country.”
Dylan Severson: Sitton adds that insights from newly gathered data could help quantify participation in the recycling program, which in turn will help the city work to boost participation in the future.
Shirlene Sitton: We really don’t know exactly how many homes we collect on any particular route. We use GIS data, but that doesn’t capture the many, many sub-units in Santa Fe, and how things have been divided, and people have casitas.
We don’t have good data on that.
This will let us know exactly how many trash carts are we picking up in a day, the recycling carts we picked up, we can tell you that participation percentage. That way we can more efficiently target our outreach. We can do outreach just to a neighborhood that’s not participating, or is consistently putting the wrong things in the cart. We can do outreach just to that neighborhood.
Dylan Severson: The environmental services division and Rubicon [Global] hope to have the pilot program implemented in waste and recycling trucks citywide by April 10th. For KSFR, I’m Dylan Severson.