How San Francisco Reduced Overflowing Waste by 80%

San Francisco’s Department of Public Works was receiving 10,000 service requests for overflowing trash cans annually. These requests posed a challenge for the department in relation to keeping the streets clean. Therefore, they wanted to find a solution to decrease the number of annual requests.

Public Works asked for help through The Startup in Residence (STiR) program. The main purpose of STiR is to match tech companies with local government partners to solve civic challenges. Public Works was matched with Nordsense. This led to the department acquiring sensors from Nordsense that could monitor overflow and vandalism on public trash cans. Together, we installed sensors in 48 of the city’s 3,800 public trash cans. In 2023, San Francisco’s Department of Public Works has +1000 sensors installed.


  • Mitigate container overflow
  • Provide a cleaner experience for citizens
  • Detects service needs before citizens complain
  • Reduce the number of collections
  • Assess and optimize the placement of bins

San Francisco achieved:

  • 80% decrease in overflowing trash cans
  • 66% decrease in street cleaning service requests
  • 64% decrease in illegal dumping

Cleaner streets

Once the program started, we quickly observed dramatic decreases in overflowing cans, service requests, and illegal dumping. And there was clearly huge, untapped potential in expanding the program.

After a highly successful pilot, Public Works – with support from Mayor London Breed – agreed to extend their smart waste management journey with an additional 1,000 smart sensors for public trash cans.



“The pilot program showed us firsthand the benefits of the sensor technology to improve cleanliness on our city’s streets, and we’re looking forward to implementing the expansion. The partnership with Nordsense will allow us to use real-time data to service the public trash cans better and deploy resources more strategically.”

– San Francisco Public Works Director, Mohammed Nuru

Making Sense of Waste Management

Monitoring Waste Levels in Real Time

The intelligent software system provides data in real-time, so Public Works no longer relies on historical trends and can act swiftly in the face of changing circumstances.

Getting Alerted When a Trash Can is Full

Public Works is notified immediately when trash cans are full, so they can respond quickly and mitigate overflow. In addition, the sensors monitor the temperature in trash cans and alert Public Works if waste is fermenting and rotting.

Monitoring Whether the Trash Can is Upright and Secure

The Nordsense system can monitor whether a can has been knocked over and send an alert to Public Works indicating the can needs to be cleaned and fixed.

Improved Collection Workflows and Reduced Carbon Emissions

With the possibility of tracking the location of full cans, Public Works is able to map the most efficient collection route so haulers only empty cans that are actually full. More efficient routes will also reduce carbon emissions.

A Reduction in Overall Costs

Servicing smart trash cans requires less driving, fuel, and labor. Costs can also be reduced by optimizing trash can placement based on data insights and servicing knocked-over trash cans more quickly before they attract dumping.

Next Steps: Focusing on Problem Areas

In alignment with San Francisco’s Sustainable City Plan to “ensure a beautiful, healthy, and prosperous city,” Nordsense will install additional sensors and begin collecting real-time data on San Francisco’s waste patterns.

The focus of the expanded project will be on neighborhoods where dirty streets, overflowing cans, and illegal dumping are especially prevalent. Installation of the multi-point reference sensors will occur in Chinatown-North Beach, Downtown, Haight, Mission, 3rd Street Light Rail, Ocean-Sunset, and other locations.

San Francisco smart waste sensors

Curious how the Nordsense solution can help optimize your operations?