The world produces millions of tons of trash every year and the waste collection resources regularly don’t match up. However, due to innovations in technology and more efficient operations, that picture is slowly changing.
Waste management innovations in third world countries and first world countries are both making changes. Some are taking the more environmental route while others are incentivizing trash collection and recycling. Both technology and operations are playing a bigger role in making people more conscious about these things.
What’s really exciting is the implementation of new technologies like IoT and 5G to solve these problems. Better communications have led to great innovation in the waste management space. They’ve led to more instantaneous action and quick solutions where it would previously take ages.
So here are just a few of the innovations that are shaking up the waste management world today.
1. Solar Powered Trash Collector (Mr. Trash Wheel)
This friendly looking innovation comes from the US. Looking like a giant friendly monster, Mr. Trash Wheel is a trash collector that collect litter and debris that flows down the Baltimore river. It has been operational for the last three years and has been successful in removing nearly 1.1 million pounds of garbage.
Mr. Trash Wheel is extremely environmentally friendly as well since it runs on solar power and doesn’t contribute to pollution. Hence, it not only cleans the Baltimore river, but keeps it clean. The trash it has cleaned up over the three years has included about 8.9 million cigarette buds and 372,650 plastic bottles.
Also, the robot is powered by solar power, only when the river’s current isn’t strong enough to turn the wheel. After trash collection, the refuse is deposited into a dumpster barge that is built into the machine.
2. SmartBelly Bins
An Australian company called BigBelly has found a great solution for the garbage collection processes going on in the country. Not only do the smart garbage bins act as a way to collect trash, but they compact it too. These bins are smart enough to create trash space when the bin is full. When the bin is full, they even segregate the waste automatically. When collection takes place, a lot of man hours are saved that are lost to sorting.
As the bins fill up, special sensors inside the bin are triggered. They compress and compact the garbage so that about five times more garbage storage space is left. This helps by reducing the number of trips that an average truck has to take. More garbage can be disposed of at once and fuel can be saved that is wasted on those trips.
The bins are solar powered and hence keep running on renewable energy for as long as possible. The bins are also compostable friendly. Each one has about 6000 liters of capacity which means that it holds eight times the volume of a common street litter bin. It also has five times the volume of the average 120-liter wheelie bin.
3. Incentivizing Plastic Recycling
It’s not second nature for someone to find a garbage bin somewhere and go deposit a wrapper or a used tissue. One wishes it was, but it’s not. Hence, in order to program human behavior, one will need to incentivize this.
Colombia has successfully done this by implementing a scheme that involves money. Anyone who recycled their plastic was rewarded for doing so. Since the country produces nearly 28,800 tons of solid waste every day, they needed an efficient trash collection system. 10,000 tons of waste was being generated in the cities of Bogota and Cali, Medellin, and Barranquilla. Coupling incentive with trash collection was a great waste management innovation.
With the seriousness of the garbage problem being understood, they came up with the idea of ECOBOT. These were technically reverse vending machine in which citizens could deposit their trash like bottles, plastic bags, etc.
The ECOBOT machines were placed in locations like public spaces, institutions, malls, etc. Each time someone would deposit trash, they would receive a restaurant coupon, a movie ticket, or simply money they could use to shop. The vending machines would then be emptied and the trash transported to landfills.
This same idea is now being tried in Mumbai; one of the largest cities in India. They’re calling it the Swachh Bharat Recycling Machine, named after the social campaign initiated by the federal government.
4. Using IoT
IoT technology is instrumental when building smart cities, and that also means smarter garbage collection. New York, for example, uses IoT level sensors to measure when trash bins are filled to the top. If they aren’t being filled regularly, the city’s administration can call to inquire if trash collection is facing problems.
Similar technology can be used in several other cities around the world. It will take years of waste management and research to implement this at a case by case basis. However, it will make waste collection more efficient and easier.
5. Route Optimization
Garbage trucks make several trips every single day around an entire city. While most of them are supposed to follow clearly marked routes, traffic and construction as well as unforeseen problems can occur. Hence, route optimization through instantaneous updates using GPS and IoT is necessary. While the latter technology is nowhere near fruition yet, GPS can be a powerful tool when optimizing routes.
Traffic patterns, distances, and construction can be taken into account when planning everyday routes. This way, minute by minute changes can be incorporated into a garbage truck’s routes.
6. Gamifying Recycling
This goes back to the point about programming garbage collection and recycling into human behavior. Take for example, the iRecycle app. Available on both iOS and Android, the app helps people locate the nearest recycling site in the area. Another app called the Recycle Coach App teaches and reminds people to recycle.
These reminders and pushes are necessary to train that behavior into people. Since these apps work wherever there is Wi-Fi, they can work when someone is at school, work, restaurants, or malls.
7. New Recovery Tools
BluBox, a Swiss developed technology is capable of processing large waste volumes. It doesn’t endanger human health or contaminate the environment, and simply recycles. The box is a single 40-foot container which shreds all sorts of trash including electronics into various materials. These include aluminum, plastics, mercury, etc.
Hazardous materials are filtered out and valuable ones like gold, silver, and platinum are salvaged to make new products.
Several of these innovations are working in singular cities or are pilot projects. Greater use of these technologies in more countries around the world where they are a net positive can be a game changer.