throwing cup in trash (pathdoc/

Pittsburgh cleans up with connected trash cans

The Department of Public Works in Pittsburgh saved significant time and money by using sensor-enabled trash cans that measure how full the containers are and transmit fill and location information to those responsible for emptying them.

DPW first proposed adopting the connected cans in 2017, when it evaluated the feasibility of replacing hundreds of old receptacles around the city and learned that the smart cans would improve efficiency and save money.

Since the initial deployment, studies by DPW and the Department of Innovation and Performance have shown that the new system can drastically reduce labor requirements.

“Based on our analysis, we expect that the smart litter cans will give us the ability to make process improvements that will reduce the amount of labor hours spent on emptying garbage cans by at least half,” said Matt Jacob, the business analyst at the Department of Innovation and Performance who manages the program. “As a result, DPW will be able to reallocate those resources to other tasks."

Data gathered by Victor Stanley, the vendor that installed the Relay system of connected trash cans and the monitoring software, showed that on any given day only 13% of the trash cans were 90% full and needed emptying.

Accounting for wages, equipment and fuel, the company's analysis revealed that the city could save $128,000 each month if it only emptied cans when they were nearly full. When DPW employees aren't required to empty all containers regardless of fill level, they can devote more time to other 311 requests, such as pothole patching, litter pickup, and weed and debris clearing.  

The system also allows city officials to see which containers are filling up quickly so that they can make data-driven decisions about relocating or installing new receptacles. Additionally, a routing algorithm shows employees the most efficient path for picking up the full containers, saving on fuel costs for the city’s fleet and reducing CO2 emissions. The sensors also report the temperature of the containers, giving officials insight into areas that may benefit from planting more trees to provide shade.

In its 2017-2019 budgets, the city set aside $670,000 for purchasing smart cans, including entirely new cans and lids with sensors that can be used to retrofit existing cans.

Pittsburgh had deployed more than 1,000 smart cans as of June. As more data becomes available about the efficiency of trash collection, officials will consider downsizing the fleet.

About the Author

Connect with the GCN staff on Twitter @GCNtech.


  • Records management: Look beyond the NARA mandates

    Pandemic tests electronic records management

    Between the rush enable more virtual collaboration, stalled digitization of archived records and managing records that reside in datasets, records management executives are sorting through new challenges.

  • boy learning at home (Travelpixs/

    Tucson’s community wireless bridges the digital divide

    The city built cell sites at government-owned facilities such as fire departments and libraries that were already connected to Tucson’s existing fiber backbone.

Stay Connected