Dictionary of digitalisation: what is smart waste management?
What is smart waste management?
Intelligent digital concepts for waste disposal and management are integral aspects of a smart city. Technological applications which measure the amount of waste building up at collection points and translate these data into efficient collection routes help to improve quality of life in cities.
Urbanisation - the new megatrend
City or country - where would you prefer to live? More and more people are choosing the former, but with many urban centres already struggling with infrastructure problems, congestion, emissions and public spending cuts, this influx, combined with existing population growth, is placing cities under enormous pressure. While not even a third of the world's population lived in cities in the 1950s, the UN estimates that by the year 2050 two thirds will do so.
If smart city models are anything to go by, however, the megalopolis of the future could still be a pleasant place to live. Intelligent technological solutions for transport, education and energy promise to create urban habitats which are efficient, sustainable and clean.
Waste disposal - an urgent problem
Smart waste management is an important component of urban digitalisation - but what exactly is it and how can it improve people's lives?
The German government has made reducing the amount of waste the country produces an explicit goal, but at the moment, homes and businesses still generate around 50 million tonnes of rubbish per year. Though there are separate bins for different materials and as much as possible is recycled, the weak point in the system emerges when it comes to collection, which takes place on a fixed schedule rather than according to necessity. If a household's rubbish bins are emptied on Wednesdays, the rubbish truck comes every Wednesday regardless of whether the family is at home or on holiday and whether the bins are full or not. Ironically, municipal waste is the most time-consuming and logistically challenging to collect: as well as visiting communal disposal points such as bottle banks, dustbin men have to stop at all the houses, office blocks and business premises in the city in order to pick up what are comparatively small amounts of rubbish. This increases the levels of traffic, noise and exhaust pollution which residents are exposed to, and is disadvantageous for waste management companies for the simple reason that it's just not efficient to empty containers which are only a quarter or half full. It's here, then, that smart waste management comes in.
Smart waste management explained
Digital disposal concepts are based on the interplay between a measuring device, software and an algorithm. Bins are equipped with intelligent sensors (these are either built in or fitted retrospectively) which use technologies such as ultrasound to measure the level of glass, paper or residual waste inside. The data collected are transmitted using an IoT solution to software which registers all the different fill levels in an area and uses an algorithm to calculate the optimum collection route - one which takes in only those containers that are completely full and actually need emptying. Obviously, routes will change from day to day. This automated system makes "empty runs" or redundant trips a thing of the past.
Who benefits from smart waste management?
The benefits of efficient route planning are clear. By only making journeys which are really necessary, collection vehicles become less of a traffic problem. They generate less noise pollution, pump out fewer exhaust fumes, and subject fewer people to their unpleasant smells. Buildings, residents, and wildlife all benefit from the cleaner air.
At the same time, smart waste management ensures that full bins are emptied as quickly as possible, even more frequently than once a week if necessary. Gone are the days when an overflow of takeaway cartons would block the pavement for days on end. Individual payment models such as a "pay-as-you-throw" solution in which customers pay according to the amount of waste they actually produce give residents the chance to save money and reward those who take steps to reduce rubbish.
Equally, smart waste management allows the waste management industry to optimise its processes. Eliminating empty runs saves recycling firms time and money which they can invest elsewhere.
Where are smart waste containers to be found?
The intelligent applications which will take waste management into the modern age are already available. The Binando solution is a closed system consisting of sensor, software and satnav which reliably directs collection vehicles to the containers which need to be emptied. Binando is conducting various pilot projects and cooperating with a number of waste disposal and management companies to provide a whole range of cities with its smart waste management solution.