When the trash can at your home needs changing, you empty it. When you’re managing something like an apartment complex, that’s not as easy a task. Property managers have no way of knowing when dumpsters are full; too often the bins are only about half full during regular scheduled pickups. Sometimes waste companies even charge for trash pickups that never occur.

And so a Texas company called RealPage saw an opportunity and, working with a San Francisco company called Compology, have come up a Waste Management Solution that uses camera-based technology including artificial intelligence (AI) and a management platform to monitor the fullness and content of trash and recycling containers at multi-family properties.

Developers say the system can reduce the cost of managing waste at apartment communities by an average of 40%.

But don’t just call it a network of trash cams.

“It’s actually a bit more complicated than that,” says Jason Lindwall, senior vice president for utility management solutions at RealPages, a leading global provider of software and data analytics to the real estate industry.

“The trick has been to somehow marry actual dumpster activity – what and how much is going into them, how often they’re being picked up, whether they’re full and that sort of thing – to the billing data.

“Up to now, we’ve been relying just on the billing to try to determine what’s going on with the dumpsters and their costs. But with the cameras, properties know exactly what’s happening on a daily basis. The cameras are supported by artificial intelligence, and they work as meters of a sort.”

They can tell users if they’re paying for pickups of half-empty dumpsters, for example. At one property using the system, a client was being billed for a weekly pickup that wasn’t happening at all, Lindwall notes.

You may have heard about the woes of contaminated recyclables, too. People often practice aspirational recycling, and bins end up getting filled with things that can’t be recycled, contaminating the recycling stream so that the whole bin has to go to a landfill.

This RealPage-Compology system can reportedly help achieve a cleaner flow of recyclables and avoid recycling penalty charges, because the cameras know when the wrong sort of trash is put in a recycling container. Sounds amazing.

The system was piloted at several sites in the Texas market. Over a four-month period, containers were on average only 31% and 75% full at pickup.

“This means a huge number of wasted pickups and charges,” Lindwall says. “The cameras also detected an average of around 2.5 missed pickups per month per container, pickups that were being charged to the property. The savings projected by addressing these issues are over $1,000 per container, equivalent to a cost reduction of almost 50%.”

As for the recycling part of it, the cameras in the pilot also identified six types of contaminants, with more 80% of recycling pickups contaminated. They detected 570 total uncollapsed cardboard boxes too, which leads to wasted space.

“You have to know these things are happening in order to deal with them through resident education,” Lindwall says.

Clients didn’t implement the recommended changes during the pilot period, which was just for assessment purposes; they made the adjustments afterwards to realize the savings.

RealPage says eight more monitoring systems for a total of more than 2,600 units using 161 waste containers are rolling out in California, along with Houston, Texas; Reno, Nevada; and Portland, Oregon.

Lindwall, who spent 15 years on the owner side of the business, says waste and its costs have been a “big pain point” in the industry for a long time.

Renters these days also are attracted to properties they feel are helping protect the environment. In a 2020 Kingsley report, 73% of renters interviewed listed sustainability and green initiatives as important in their choice of an apartment.

This is just the start for the RealPage Waste Management Solution, the COO says. The system is being introduced out in all 50 U.S. states.

“Customers are already using RealPage’s utility management services (which includes trash billing) at properties comprising over 2 million units today, so the rollout potential to this base is huge.”