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Garbage-bin sensors not an easy sell for Vancouver firm

RecycleSmart Solutions makes a device that measures how full recycling bins are, so they are not emptied prematurely.

RecycleSmart Solutions Inc.

They say one man's trash is another man's treasure.

That's the approach Colin Bell has taken to refuse collection, and his high-tech twist on an age-old industry is promising to ruffle some feathers.

Mr. Bell, who founded Vancouver-based RecycleSmart Solutions with his wife in 2007, devised the idea of using remote sensors to ensure that waste and recycling bins are at least 85 per cent full when they are picked up.

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As a semi-finalist in last year's Small Business Challenge contest, sponsored by The Globe and Mail and Telus Corp., Mr. Bell wanted to maximize his company's efficiency by reducing operating costs.

But more importantly, he needed to convince waste-management providers that RecycleSmart's technology made sound business sense. One year later, that is still proving to be something of a tough sell.

"None of them have come to me and said I'd like to put them in X or Y bin," Mr. Bell says.

Waste companies usually make pickups based on schedules, not the amount in a bin. Installing Mr. Bell's device would be "basically cutting into their margins and making their operation a lot more complex," he says.

"That would be kind of a bit of change, and a lot of the haulers don't have the technology in the trucks to do that. They don't have full-on GPS sat-nav systems – it's literally Bob with his clipboard, and he knows his route."

As part of his Challenge proposal, Mr. Bell wanted to roll out 100 sensor-equipped bins across North America as a part of a six-month pilot project. Those plans didn't exactly pan out.

The company is still testing prototypes for the bin sensors. "Until you get a sensor that you're pretty comfortable with you don't want to roll out a lot of them because it's a lot of going back and bolting and unbolting."

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The sensors are provided by companies in Ireland and Finland, with a third company in Turkey also offering its technology to RecycleSmart. Mr. Bell is looking to have a number of options to present to clients.

The company, which also has a third partner, Graeme Dobinson, still has six full-time workers, though it plans to add another in July. Business is starting to pick up, and Mr. Bell predicts revenue this fiscal year will grow to more than $2-million from $500,000 in 2013.

"We've got sensors rolling out into bins now and are accelerating our installation rate," he says.

Mr. Bell was speaking from Toronto, where he was performing installations last week, and he said RecycleSmart is also doing solid business in B.C.'s Lower Mainland, Edmonton and Winnipeg.

Mr. Bell is confident that his sensor-based technology will make the difference when it comes to winning new business.

"Right now it's Garbage Company A and Garbage Company B," he explains. "Other than price, there's not really anything different between two dumpsters, whereas when we go in we'd sell it as we have sensor technology, we're going to make sure your bin not only gets picked up when it's full, if there's any problems we'll know before it overflows, so it's kind of a competitive advantage.

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"And then we would subcontract the pickup of that bin to one of our hauling partners, so we see it as an evolution of the business."

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