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Smart waste, an opportunity cities should not trash

Smart waste’s benefits mean the technology has become too important for cities to ignore.


Waste needs to smarten up in nearly every city around the world. According to the World Bank, we generate more than two billion metric tons of municipal solid waste every year. By 2050, annual waste generation will increase by 70 per cent to 3.4 billion metric tons. This is particularly worrying for city managers, who need to ensure effective waste collection and treatment to preserve public health and overall liveability.

Most cities used to have a reactive approach in dealing with waste management, thus investing only in light of emergency situations, or when pushed by regulatory compliance issues. EU countries must recycle at least 50 per cent of waste or face penalties, and the United States is also exploring a change to performance metrics in recycling.

By 2050, annual waste generation will reach 3.4 billion metric tons

Increasingly asked to shift from a linear to a circular economy, cities are now turning proactive and looking at waste management not as an expenditure item, but as an opportunity to improve quality of urban life. So how can smart technologies address many of a city’s pain points when it comes to effective trash collection and management?


The waste issue: High cost, poor performance

Waste collection, typically accounting from 10 to 25 per cent of a municipality budget, faces a number of efficiency issues. Research findings by global smart city consultancy Kurrant reveals 15 per cent of bins are generally over-full, with unsightly bags being placed around and creating a health and environmental hazard.


To prevent such a situation, cities usually increase the frequency of collection, but this can mean bins are emptied when they are only 40 per cent full and, as a consequence, waste collection costs increase. Don’t forget containers are also an easy target for vandalism, often being turned upside down or kicked and even set on fire, creating a serious safety risk and additional costs.

Fifteen per cent of bins are generally over-full

Some cities decide to move from door-to-door to voluntary drop-off models, but results are not always brilliant. Considering glass waste in a town of 100 thousand inhabitants, an accurate comparison between the two options proved that, past the 40 per cent threshold, voluntary drop-off is less expensive for service managers but also far less performing and effective.


Key benefits of smart waste


All of these pain points can be very well addressed by smart waste solutions that leverage Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to connect and remotely monitor trash bins, collect data such as the level of filling, date and time of latest waste collection, and generate alerts in case of fire, vandalism or unauthorized bin movements.


By analysing and correlating data, the solution can predict when the bin will need emptying and its intelligent routing software allows trucks to be dispatched when the bins are close to full, or when the city prefers. This improves the quality of waste collection services, increases efficiency, and generates relevant savings on fuel expenses and overall maintenance costs.


City managers can also better plan their resources by assessing the appropriate truck fleet and equipment for handling the expected waste volumes, and analyse filling patterns to take data-driven decisions about the quantity, capacity and location of containers. Alarms sent from bin sensors allow a quicker response when a bin is damaged or stolen.


Garbage-related data could also feed customised applications and be monetised: think for instance of the possibility of accurately tracking waste input and introducing discounted fees to reward recycling and correct waste separation.


The importance of responsible citizenship


Smart waste and IoT-based solutions are a cardinal component to improve municipal waste collection and management, but not the only one.


One of key principles of the circular economy is turning waste into a resource. This can be achieved if citizens are engaged and highly committed to separate waste, favour recycling processes as much as they can, and try to minimise their household trash. A sustainable lifestyle might require some changes to personal and family habits, an effort everybody should make to live in a cleaner, healthier, and safer environment, and in more attractive cities.


Smart technologies can help, supporting city managers to improve waste-related services and encourage responsible citizenship through data-driven evidence.


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Why smarter waste management is key to building more efficient and sustainable smart cities.

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