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Portland’s procurement aims to minimise sensor waste

IoT sensors are deployed in many smart city projects but recycling the small electronics used in them is difficult. Portland wants to promote sustainable procurement and re-usability.

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Smart City PDX, Portland’s urban data and technology division, has been recognised for its innovative procurement practices to minimise electronic waste from Internet of Things (IoT) sensors.

 

IoT sensors are deployed in many smart city projects but recycling the small electronics used in them is difficult.

 

Smart City PDX has agreed that assessing the sustainability of sensors themselves is an integral part of the process when selecting solutions. It included criteria to reflect this in recent procurement communications around an air quality initiative.

 

The approach has been recognised by the Green Electronics Council, which named Smart City PDX as a 2019 Catalyst Awards Honoree.

 

Air quality

 

Portland wants to use sensor networks to capture often-uneven patterns of air pollution. This could involve hundreds to thousands of devices and within each device, sensor components need frequent replacement.

 

Many recycling facilities are not equipped to recycle small electronic components used in connected sensor devices, meaning this type of waste is often shipped abroad.

 

IoT sensors are used in many smart city projects but recycling the small electronics used in them is difficult.

 

Christine Kendrick, Smart City PDX co-ordinator/air quality lead, City of Portland, said: “Current sensor technology limitations will result in frequent replacement and maintenance. Reuse of as many parts of a device as possible will reduce electronics waste.”

 

Smart City PDX’s procurement criteria focused on the ability to upgrade and modify a device so that sensor device components could be re-used.

 

Modular solution

 

Apis Inc designed a modular sensor socket as a cost-saving measure while developing its device. The company was getting ready to start soldering sensors to circuit boards until it saw the Smart City PDX procurement criteria. This led Apis to keep the modular design and it’s now a feature the company markets with the product.

 

The modular socket saves costs and leads to lower use of printed circuit boards (PCBs), reducing the hazardous solid and liquid waste which their production creates.

 

The Smart City PDX Air Quality Sensor Testing project deployed a small number of sensor devices but Apis said the reductions in waste scale up to all other projects and networks it is a partner on.

 

"The sooner purchasers incorporate lifecycle requirements into sensor projects, the sooner providers can make changes to their product design and manufacturing."

 

Smart City PDX says the procurement criteria it used to reduce electronics waste within IoT projects is transferable to other cities.

 

Kendrick commented: “The sooner purchasers incorporate lifecycle requirements into sensor projects, the sooner providers can make changes to their product design and manufacturing.

 

"Altering electronics designs in a more mature product could be more difficult. Reusing external housing components of sensor devices are other ways to reduce waste.

 

She added: “Smart City PDX also acknowledges that the most sustainable solution is to minimise the number of sensors used in the first place. Intentional processes must evaluate how sensors and new data will answer your questions. This evaluation is the first step in reducing waste.”

 

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