6 essential steps for cities and municipalities before choosing smart waste fill-level sensor technology

As cities and municipalities increasingly look towards smart waste management solutions to optimize operations, choosing the right fill-level sensor technology is crucial. Based on lessons learned from recent trials worldwide, here are six important steps to consider to ensure successful implementation and maximize benefits.

1. Ensure robust network and connectivity

One of the primary challenges faced by many cities is the connectivity issue. When selecting a smart waste sensor technology, it’s essential to ensure the chosen system can operate efficiently within the existing network infrastructure. It is a big added value when smart sensor is supporting more than one network. Consider one the following IoT networks:

  • LoRaWAN: Ideal for long-range, low-power applications, making it suitable for widely dispersed bins. Further benefit is cost efficiency.
  • CAT-M1: Provides high data rates, which is crucial for applications requiring frequent data transmission.
  • NB-IoT: Offers deep indoor penetration and is energy efficient, making it a good choice for densely populated city centers.

Thoroughly evaluate the network compatibility to avoid connectivity problems that can disrupt sensor performance. Read more about the benefits of each network in this technical overview by Semtech.

When IoT-specific networks like LoRaWAN, CAT-M1, and NB-IoT are not feasible, 2G/GPRS can serve as a reliable alternative for smart waste management. Although it offers lower data rates and higher power consumption compared to newer technologies, 2G/GPRS networks provide widespread coverage and are often sufficient for transmitting small data packets from waste sensors.

2. Assess the type of waste and bins

Different waste types and bin designs require tailored sensor solutions. For instance, monitoring fill levels in underground bins used with hydraulic arms differs significantly from traditional 1100-liter plastic bins. Consider these factors:

  • Waste Type: Sensors must be calibrated differently for materials like glass, cardboard, or mixed waste due to their unique density and filling patterns.
  • Bin Design: Ensure the sensors can be correctly positioned. On one hand, sensors should not interfere with the bin’s functionality, especially in bins with built-in ashtrays or chutes. On the other hand, improper placement can interfere with the sensor’s function, for instance, the sensor’s ultrasound pathway must be clear of any barriers inside the bin to ensure accurate measurements. Proper placement and a clear line of sight for ultrasonic sensors are crucial to avoid misreads and ensure the sensor can effectively monitor the bin’s fill level without obstruction. It is also important to differ between plastic, metal, or any other material of the bins.
  • Location: Urban centers with dense bin distribution might need different networks compared to remote areas.

Customized solutions ensure accurate data collection and efficient waste management operations.

3. Conduct a Comprehensive ROI Calculation

Before investing in smart waste sensors, calculate the return on investment (ROI) based on your current waste management infrastructure. Consider the following:

  • Number of bins: Analyze the number of bins and their average fill levels.
  • Collection frequency: Assess how often bins need to be emptied and the potential savings in reducing unnecessary collections.
  • Operational costs: Factor in vehicle operation hours, maintenance costs, and manpower.
  • Environmental impact: Calculate potential reductions in carbon emissions and other environmental benefits.

A thorough ROI analysis helps determine the financial viability and long-term benefits of the project. In Sensoneo, before starting the project, we can analyze the possible financial impact on your operations through comprehensive Power BI calculations.

4. Evaluate bin compatibility and customization needs

Not all bins are compatible with standard sensors, and some may require specialized tuning or installation adjustments. Consider:

  • Sensor placement: Ensure sensors can be securely installed without obstructing the bin’s normal operation.
  • Customization: Some bins may need custom mounting options or other adjustments for optimal performance. Furthermore, some customers or projects might also need some adjustments regarding the software part and waste management platform. Therefore, it is a big advantage when the R&D of the technology provider of both hardware and software solution is developed in-house and not outsourced.
  • Support and flexibility: Choose a provider that offers comprehensive support and customization options to address specific needs and challenges, both in terms of hardware and software.

Properly fitting and adaptable sensors will enhance system efficiency and data accuracy.

5. Research the technology options

Different sensor technologies offer varying benefits and limitations, making it essential to choose the right one for your specific waste management needs. Here are the most common types:

Ultrasonic Sensors measure distance to the waste surface using sound waves, making them suitable for all types of waste bins. They are cost-effective, versatile, and can handle a variety of waste types and bin designs. One of the top features of Sensoneo sensors is their duration, as they are completely shock-, temperature-, and water-resistant.

Optical Sensors use light to detect fill levels and provide quick and easy measurements. However, they are less effective in dusty or dirty environments where the lens can become obscured, leading to inaccurate readings. Their performance can also degrade in varying light conditions.

Laser Sensors provide precise measurements using laser beams, making them ideal for high-accuracy requirements. Their disadvantages are higher costs and complexity compared to ultrasonic and optical sensors. They require careful alignment and can be obstructed by any debris inside the bin, which can lead to false readings. They are also very sensitive to environmental conditions like dust, which can obstruct the laser path and affect accuracy.

Conduct thorough research to identify the most suitable technology for your specific waste management needs, considering factors such as environmental conditions, bin design, and waste type. Understanding the strengths and limitations of each sensor type will help you make an informed decision and optimize your waste management operations.

6. Consider additional factors

Beyond the primary considerations, other factors can influence the success of smart waste management implementation:

  • Battery life: Ensure sensors have a long battery life to reduce maintenance frequency. Opt for sensors with robust batteries and energy-efficient designs. Sensoneo uses powerful SAFT batteries, which are easily replaceable and with lifespan of approximately 5 years.
  • Data reporting: Balance the frequency of data reporting to avoid excessive battery drain while maintaining timely efficient updates. The frequency of measurement in Sensoneo sensors is adjustable according to preferences but ranges from once a day to every to every 1 minute within our newest 5.0 sensor. This version also includes the ability to set a specific time as well. Market best practice for measurements is 4 times a day.
  • Vendor reputation: Choose vendors with a proven track record and positive reviews from other cities or municipalities. Sensoneo has large-scale installation and pilot projects in 86 countries worldwide and our ultrasonic sensors are also part of the largest global smart waste installation in Madrid, Spain with 11.100 pieces.

Careful consideration of these factors will help avoid common pitfalls and ensure the chosen technology meets your specific needs.

smart waste monitoring sensor installation


Selecting the right smart waste fill level sensor technology is a complex but crucial decision for cities and municipalities aiming to optimize waste management. By following these six essential steps, you can ensure a successful implementation that enhances operational efficiency, reduces costs, and supports sustainability goals.

Our advanced sensor solutions are designed to address these challenges, offering superior performance and reliability tailored to your unique requirements. Reach out to our experts today to get more advice on how technology can transform your waste management operations.

Different possibilities of mounting and holding of smart waste ultrasonic sensors in different bins.