The seemingly unsolvable problem of communal bin storage chaos in apartment blocks is being tackled by Kildare start-up Accessgreen with an innovative solution which combines technology with education, writes Trish Dromey.
"They said there is nothing to be done about the mess of communal bins and the contamination of recyclable material with waste. They said that nothing will make apartment occupiers separate their waste," said Accessgreen co-founder Gavin Brangan who set out to prove the people who said these things wrong.
He was prompted to find a solution for the problem when he was involved in the facilities management of an apartment complex in Kildare where waste costs were spiraling out of control.
"For an apartment complex with 80 units the cost was €24,000 which was huge," he said.
The cost for waste removal in apartments is €30 for a 1,100 litre bin but it’s just €5 or €6 for the same amount of recycled material, he said pointing out that the obvious solution was to get the apartment residents to separate their waste and recycle more. Encouraging them to do this would not only reduce waste costs, it would also benefit the environment, he added.
The first step was to develop technology which could control access to the bins. Mr Brangan estimates that 30% of waste in communal bins is left by people who don’t live there. Using his own coding skills, he joined with security consultant Philip Taaffe to devise a cloud-based system which controls access to the bins and also monitors activity at the bins using CCTV.
"The residents sign a smart social contract agreeing to abide by the community's values of waste reduction and recycling. Residents who breach the waste control regulations are subject to being fined."
Mr Brangan tried out the system at the apartment complex in Kildare in 2015."We reduced the waste collection costs by 50% to €12,000 and the capital costs were repaid in six months."
The technology, developed with the assistance of some community environment funding, was tried out in a second complex before Mr Brangan and Mr Taaffe set up Accessgreen in 2016.
Three years on the company is providing a facilities management service for 25 apartment complexes in Leinster including some in Dublin, Offaly, and Wicklow as well as Kildare.
Starting out with a priming grant from Kildare Local Enterprise Office, the company got some Angel investment and in 2018 received €50,000 in competitive start funding from Enterprise Ireland.
Now it is participating in the Enterprise Ireland High Potential Startup programme which is available to companies which are seen as having the potential to generate turnover of €1m and have a staff of ten people within three years.
Currently, Accessgreen's only full-time employee, Mr Brangan said that at present the company contracts other services as is requires them.
The goal is to develop sales nationally and also to move into export markets within the next year or two.
"Places such as Eastern Europe and the Far East have vast apartment blocks where communal waste stores cause major problems."
Mr Brangan said that his company is providing a whole new type of service – one which can pay for itself through the savings in waste costs.
Although people told him that apartment residents could not be persuaded to separate their waste, he said the key has been in aligning the incentives.
"This system gives residents a cleaner bin store with a higher ratio of waste recycled, it controls costs for owners and for managers there is accountability and less hassle."