Talking Bins

During 2023, 19 “talking” bins appeared in various places throughout Whitby. A Whitby resident used an FOI to enquire regarding the cost of these devices, and on September 27th 2023 had this reply

Further to your enquiry below we can confirm that there have been a total of 19 solar compacting bins installed in the Whitby area at a cost of £106,875. The bins provide for x10 capacity of a regular bin and can be monitored remotely to ensure efficient and effective emptying as required.

That means £5625 each!. Given that this invited more questions than it answered, we used an FOI to dig further, and on October 24th 2023 had this reply.

Further to your request of the 28 September we can provide the following answers.

Regarding the purchase of solar compacting bins for Whitby, can you please provide

  1. The assessment of expected lifetime of a solar compacting bin, given the presence of solar power conversion equipment present, and the increased mechanical components (relative to a conventional bin) : We are still operating compaction bins at Robin Hoods Bay that were purchased in 2015, so we expect these to operate at least as long.
  2. The expected maintenance cost of a solar compacting bin over its lifetime : We have purchased a 5 year maintenance package as part of the purchase of these bins, at the expiry of this we will review options for ongoing maintenance.  There was no separate figure quoted as part of the purchase regarding maintenance costs. To date there has not been any money spent on maintenance of either bin at RHB in the last five years.
  3. The business case for solar compacting bins compared to conventional wheelie bin containing bins : I can confirm that the council holds this information, however it is exempt from disclosure by virtue of Section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. This is because the information is already reasonably accessible to you, as it is already in the public domain. As part of Project Sunshine, the business case for solar compacting bins compared to conventional wheelie bin containing bins was decided at the legacy Scarborough Borough Council Cabinet meeting on the 17 May 2022, and all papers for this meeting can be found here –
  4. Who and what department signed off on this decision : The purchase of the bins was undertaken by the former Scarborough Borough Council as part of an agreed public realm improvement project named Project Sunshine. Please see the link in Q3.

Since the “business case” is not going to be shared, let’s make a series of assumptions, and see whether we can come to a conclusion about the value for money

Standard Bin

Let’s assume that a normal bin (on average) would need emptying every day for 6 months, and every 2 days for the rest of the year. That makes 270 empties. Whitby refuse workers are pretty efficient at this process, so if we say 1 minute per empty for a normal bin. So that equates to 4.5 man hours over a year per bin.

Talking Bin

For a compacting bin the number of empties would be a tenth the number for a standard bin due to their compacting (assuming maximum efficency). So 27 empties. If we assume 1 worker per bin then that is 0.5 man hours over a year per bin.

The only thing is, it has been observed involving multiple workers (up to 3!) doing this (due to being the only bin to empty?), so this could be an underestimate of the manpower utilised.

The other thing to mention is that compaction efficiency is unlikely to be at maximum because it will be dependent on what items are deposited in the bin.


If we assume that each solar powered compacting bin lasts 10 years then each bin saves 40 man hours in its (10-year) lifetime (i.e (4.5-0.5)*10).

If we assume further that a refuse worker is paid £15-£20/hour, then that is saving £600-800 over its lifetime (ignoring extra corporate costs like national insurance and pension etc). But a solar powered compacter bin costs £5625 whereas a normal bin would be the order of £100, hence it would need a lifetime of more than 70 years to pay for itself! And that does not allow for the solar powered compacter needing further maintenance contracts from year 6 onwards!

Note that we’re ignoring the fact that they are not user-friendly for people with disabilities. We’re also ignoring the fact that any compacted waste is presumably useless for separating items for recycling.

It has been suggested by other authorities utilising these bins that you will make fewer trips to empty them : true, but unless you replace ALL bins in that area, you will still be visiting that area each day to do the standard bins, so that is actually a false argument.

Some would say that a worker may empty the key areas twice a day, but then it could easily be argued that a worker empties a bin in 30 secs, so no overall difference to the calculation.

If you can think of other aspects to add into this very basic calculation, please do let us know and we’ll update it. It’s always a good idea to check their working out.

And then NYC wonders why it has a black hole of £25m.

“Thank you for using me”?

What a load of rubbish!

We have questioned NYC as to whether the spending culture in the new council will be any different, given the obvious budget challenges, as follows.

To: Cllr Carl Les (Leader NYC), Richard Flinton (NYC Chief Exec), Cllr Phil Trumper, Cllr Neil Swannick
Good afternoon,
Whilst continually reading that councils are strapped for cash I would like to question the value for money that has been obtained in recent history.
To draw this into focus, let’s look at the purchase of talking bins for Whitby (by SBC as part of “Project Sunshine”). We have done our own analysis of the cost benefit of these devices. 
[link to post]
One does have to wonder what was in that magical “business case” that SBC dreamed up? (and why these bins had “Chester and Cheshire Councils” marked on them when installed?).
Would you care to comment on how NYC is planning to change the culture that was previously present, and how you will be obtaining better value for money for the council tax payer?
Whitby Community Network

Richard Flinton, NYC Chief Exec kindly replied, as follows

I can assure you that as a Council we are committed to delivering value for money. I am not familiar with the decision that was taken around the compacting talking bins that were put in place by Scarborough Borough Council. I note that your evaluation of it contains a number of assumptions which again I am unsure of the validity – however I will share your email for information to colleagues leading the Council’s Waste Service.

Kind regards,

Richard Flinton
Chief Executive, NYC

and also Cllr Carl Les, as follows

Thanks for this. This is a scheme we inherited, so I can`t comment on the decisions behind it, but my approach is simple – I didn`t make a success of my business by being profligate with my own money, and I`m not going to be free with other peoples`, ie your, money. I won`t stymie initiative, but I will want to see value in all we do.

I think the CEx is looking at the issue you`ve raised in more detail.

Yours sincerely,

Carl Les

Share this