How we get rid of rubbish is an issue which affects us all.
Out of sight, out of mind? Absolutely, when it comes to waste. For most people, rubbish is good for one thing: chucking in the bin. What happens after cardboard, plastic and paper have been thrown away remains a mystery to the majority of the population thanks to an ingenious and almost invisible system of waste management.
The "good old days" - less waste, more pollution
The question of how to get rid of rubbish has been a matter of concern ever since humans started to live together in large communities. Even in Ancient Rome there were special officials, the "aediles", whose job was to make sure that streets and public squares were kept tidy. If a householder neglected his duty to keep the area around his domicile in good order, a hefty penalty could result. In those days, domestic waste and sewage would be thrown into drains and gutters, ultimately ending up in the environment. Even then, however, valuable materials such as glass and metal were collected separately, melted down and turned into new objects.
From a throwaway society to one which manages its waste
The amount of waste generated in antiquity bears no comparison to that generated today. Though most people agree that trying to reduce what we throw away and live more sustainably are worthy ideals, reality tells a different story. The average German produces 626 kg of rubbish per year - significantly more than the European average of 480 kg per year. In order to keep us from actually drowning in refuse, the waste management industry has set up a system which allows certain materials to be separated and recycled. Paper and glass, for instance, are collected in special containers before being processed and reused. Metals, plastics and composites are also recycled, while organic waste becomes compost for agricultural or horticultural use, or, alternatively, is transformed into biogas. Residual waste - that which is left over because it can't be recycled, is burned or taken to landfill sites. In 2016, EU member states recycled 30 percent of their waste and composted a further 17 percent. 27 percent was burned, and 25 percent ended up in landfill.
The logistics of disposal: flaws in the system
Although the percentage of waste being recycled is rising all the time, the waste management system as a whole has various flaws. There is particular room for improvement in the way recyclable materials are collected. Usually, collection vehicles visit recycling containers according to a schedule which is fixed, inflexible and not attuned to real needs. Bins are emptied even if they're only half full. The consequences are unnecessary journeys, inefficient use of time and more vehicle exhaust fumes in the atmosphere. With most towns and cities already struggling with traffic problems on a massive scale, it's high time for the waste management industry to try out new ideas and to optimise its processes.
The future of waste management is smart!
How does waste management tie in with the concept of a smart city? Can our vision of a clean, green, low-emissions metropolis accommodate rotting waste, greasy packaging and the smells that go with them? The fact is that smart waste management is a central component of intelligent, digitalised and connected cities. The question of how to get rid of rubbish is one that smart cities will answer in innovative and brand new ways.
Digital technologies, the Internet of Things, which permits information exchange between objects, and algorithms which calculate optimum solutions in complex scenarios have the potential to revolutionize the waste management industry. Apps like Binando don't just work out the ideal route for collection vehicles to follow, they ensure that containers are only visited when they need emptying - saving time, cutting down on emissions, alleviating the traffic situation and benefitting the environment.