Feature Story

How the Internet of Things is aiding the garbage crisis

by Melissa Jun Rowley

waste management

A look at how sensors and platforms are measuring waste.

Anyone who keeps track of how many material items they toss in the garbage can on a daily basis is somewhat aware of how much waste they generate. This isn’t a fun activity to engage in, and let’s face it—other than the supremely environmentally conscious—most people do not measure their waste, nor do they manage it. In some parts of the world, such as India and Lebanon, this is propagating a garbage crisis, which is the cause of a number of environmental problems and public health issues.

The US generates approximately 230 million tons of “trash"— 4.6 pounds per person per day. Less than one-quarter of it is recycled.According to Annenberg Learner, a division of the Annenberg Foundation, each year, the US generates approximately 230 million tons of “trash"— 4.6 pounds per person per day. Less than one-quarter of it is recycled. The rest is incinerated or buried in landfills. The Center for Sustainability & Commerce at Duke University reports that municipal solid waste landfills are the second-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States. Methane emission is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas released in the US.

But the garbage situation is not all doom and gloom. Like a number of other industries, waste management solutions are being enhanced, digitized, and made more efficient, thanks to the ubiquitous Internet of Things. Below are a few waste management initiatives bringing waste management from low-tech to high-tech.

The Barcelona-based smart city solution company Urbiotica currently has waste management sensors installed on waste containers in Barcelona, Figueres, Mallorca, Guadalajara, Ashdod (Israel), and is starting some pilots in France, Macedonia, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil.

Here’s how it works

One wireless and autonomous M2M sensor is installed in the container lid. The sensor measures the container filling level using ultrasonic technology, and periodically transmits all captured information to the Urbiotica Software Platform, where the data is processed and distributed to a third party application where route planning optimization is made.

Urbiotica’s marketing and communication manager, Tania Jose, says the savings cities get from implementing the technology in the waste collection service depends on the frequency of waste generation.

In those scenarios where you need to empty the bins every day, the sensor does not provide information to optimize the service and therefore no benefit would be obtained. However, in those waste collection systems where the frequency of waste generation is slower and variable, it makes sense to use Urbiotica’s waste management technology.

“Of course there are also other non-monetary benefits in deploying our smart waste collection solution,” says Jose. “Route optimization will reduce the number of trips of the trucks hence less traffic will be generated and less pollutant emissions will be released into the air.”

In Barcelona alone, more than $4 billion in savings is expected in the next 10 years, due to the adoption of IoT-aided waste management technology.

In the Netherlands, the Dutch waste management firm Rova puts waste containers online and collects data about how often they’re used and what their waste levels are. The company then analyzes thousands of datasets from multiple sensors, GPS, smart devices, and RFID tags. According to the company, the digitized information prevents inefficiencies in the waste management process and has saved 20% in operational costs.

While the Netherlands is one of the leading recycling countries, its people consistently aim to raise recycling rates. IoT sensors could be used to track recycled items, as well. After all, to do something “efficiently” means the process and outcomes need to be measured.



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