How San Francisco obtained an 80 percent decrease in overflowing cans by redefining their waste management



San Francisco achieved

Waste sensor

80 percent decrease in overflowing trash cans

Waste management

66 percent decrease in street cleaning service requests

Waste dumping

64 percent decrease in illegal dumping

San Francisco found the solution

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 cleaner. Therefore, they wanted to find a solution to decrease the number of annual requests.

Public Works therefore 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.

San Francisco

Project waste management optimization

Through STiR, Public Works was matched with our technical team at Nordsense. This led to the department acquiring sensors from Nordsense that could monitor overflow and vandalism on public trash cans. Together they installed sensors in 48 of the city’s 3,800 public trash cans.

Project goals

  • Mitigate container overflowing
  • Provide a better and cleaner experience for citizens
  • Detect service needs before citizens complain
  • Reduce the number of collections necessary
  • Assess and optimize the placement of bins


Nordsense is making sense of waste management

Nordsense is helping San Francisco Public Works optimize their city’s waste management. Once the program started, we quickly observed dramatic decreases in overflowing cans, service requests, and illegal dumping. It is clear that there is great potential in expanding the program. Further, it is possible to utilize the many features and benefits of Nordsense sensors in relation to San Francisco as well as many other cities around the world. Only the imagination is a limit to the possible features of our sensors and software system and the benefits are many.

Nordsense platform

Do it like San Francisco


Monitor trash levels in real-time

The intelligent software system provided by Nordsense can monitor trash levels in real-time all around the city. This helps Public Works manage the trash cans in an optimized way.


Alert when a trash can is full

The sensors and software system from Nordsense make it possible for Public Works to be immediately alerted when the trash cans are full.


Monitor 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.


Collect other useful information such as temperature

The sensors can also monitor temperature in the different trash cans. This will make it possible to alert Public Works if something in the can is fermenting and rotting.


Help manage cans and reduce overflow of trash cans

We are helping San Francisco Public Works in relation to managing their cans around the city and in that way reduce the number of trash cans overflowing.


Improvement of collection workflows and reduction of carbon emissions

Because it is possible to track where the full cans are located we can map a route that is the most efficient so the haulers only empty cans that are actually full. More efficient routes will also reduce carbon emissions.


Overall costs associated with waste management will be reduced

Because of the management and monitoring of cans as well as improvement of workflows the costs associated with waste management can be reduced. Servicing “smart” cans requires less driving, less fuel and less labor. We can also reduce costs by optimizing can placement and by servicing knocked-over cans more quickly before they attract dumping.

"We are expanding the number of smart trash cans across the City to ensure that our trash is properly disposed of and does not end up on our streets."

Mayor of San Francisco, London Breed in the San Francisco Examiner.

Project update

Nordsense will install 1,000 additional sensors in San Francisco. 

After a highly successful pilot, San Francisco’s The Department of Public Works – with support from Mayor London Breed – has contracted with Nordsense to expand the program to 1,000 additional cans.


Focus on problem areas

In alignment with San Francisco’s Sustainable City Plan to “ensure a beautiful, healthy and prosperous city,” Nordsense will install the 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.


Using data to optimize resources

  • In addition to cleaning up problem areas in the city, Public Works plans to gather data from the sensors to learn how existing trash collection and street cleaning routes can be adjusted based on historical fill levels.
  • Data from the initial pilot indicated that smart distribution of cans based on measurable activity might have more of an impact on the cleanliness of streets that increasing the number of cans overall.
  • Over time, as our algorithms are exposed to more data, they may be able to help us predict waste generation activity in specific areas, fine-tune the routing of collection trucks and eventually produce insight that we can use to help increase recycling rates

“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,” San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru says. “The partnership with Nordsense will allow us to use real-time data to better service the public trash cans and deploy resources more strategically.”


The world is watching

Many cities across the world have “zero waste” ambitions, and are ready to see technological innovation transform the waste collection industry and help them clean up their streets. The expansion of Nordsense’s partnership with San Francisco has attracted widespread attention.


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