Connected waste management: The future of cleaner and greener refuse disposal

| December 16, 2014

By Niklas Ekarv, Head of M2M Asia Pacific, Vodafone Global Enterprise

Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050, that number is expected to rise to 70%. The continued growth of the global urban population is putting a strain on public services and facilities, with issues such as traffic, pollution and public safety becoming increasingly difficult for local authorities to manage.

Overflowing bins, in particular, can be a health hazard, inviting infestations and the spread of disease if left unmanaged. However, unnecessarily sending refuse collectors to check if bins need emptying when they are not yet full can be a costly waste of time.

According to the World Bank, cities around the world currently generate around 1.3 billion tonnes of waste per year. The figure is expected to grow substantially to 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025, too. With Asia Pacific accounting for more than 60% of the global population, waste management has become a challenge for many governments in this region, especially for the developing countries.

The industrial waste management market in Asia Pacific is at different stages of maturity, presenting both challenges and opportunities. For developing countries such as China and India, this market is influenced by rapid industrialization and urbanization. Meanwhile, the more developed countries, ranging from Hong Kong to Singapore, are focusing more into recycling and e-waste initiatives.

Thankfully, Machine-to-Machine (M2M) technology is now transforming the waste management industry. By embedding SIM cards into objects, information can be wirelessly transmitted in real-time via secured mobile network, enabling remote monitoring and streamlining existing processes. With M2M, companies like Ecube Labs and Mic-O-Data have developed new ways to turn city bins smart. Their inventions will not only keep the world’s streets cleaner, but reduce the long-term cost and environmental impact of refuse collection.

Minimizing waste management with solar-powered compression

A strong case in point is waste management in Seoul. With local authorities facing mounting pressure on budgets covering residential refuse collection, beleaguered homeowners are beginning to dump their household refuse in public bins. As the bins fill up and overflow, residents became even more frustrated, having to put up with the stench and eyesore on their streets.

Ecube Labs tackled this by creating a smart refuse bin, which comes with a solar-powered compacter and M2M-managed network connectivity. This allows the bin to hold four times more waste, as well as letting the local council remotely monitor the bins. More importantly, notification can be automatically sent out when they need to be emptied.

As a result, the Seoul municipal council has effectively reduced its waste disposal workload by around 20%, thanks to the fewer refuse collection trips. And with that mean lesser fuel consumption, which is not only more cost-effective, but beneficial for the environment. In this case, the CO2 emission reduction achieved by Ecube’s smart bins is comparable to planting 150,000 new trees around the city.

Incentivising better consumer behaviour with waste monitoring

It isn’t just public bins that can become a nuisance when they are overfilled. In the Netherlands, local authorities discovered that bins in housing estates throughout the country were commonly used as a dumping ground. On the other hand, others were not properly closed, leaving them open to infestation. There was an urgent need to monitor the residents misusing these bins to create better accountability. And they needed to do this on a major scale.

Dutch technology company, Mic-O-Data5, collaborated with 25 local authorities to install 6,000 smart refuse collection points. Utilizing M2M SIM cards incorporated into the bins, the local authorities can receive daily notifications if any of the bins are fully filled or not being closed properly. What’s more, the new system can also identify the residents using the bins and bill them where necessary. Being able to track the bin’s usage level instantly reduces unnecessary refuse collection trips. Once again minimizing the amount of trucks, fuel and CO2 used to keep residential housing estates litter-free.

In the City of Groningen, a study was commissioned by Vodafone to measure the effectiveness of Mic-O-Data’s smart waste management. The study found that the City of Groningen was making a net saving of almost 30 tonnes of CO2 per year. The city also saved an estimated €92,035 in capital expenditure from a reduction in the trucks required, as well as the resulting cost savings in fuel and maintenance.

Deterring wasteful rubbish disposal

Monitoring the usages of bins is not only an effective method to deter excessive waste, but also a way of incentivizing residents to recycle. An increasingly pressing issue in Europe, the latest EU Directives are calling for a reduction in the volumes of landfill waste, leading to a surge in material recovery through recycling.

Though landfill has historically been the preferred method of waste treatment, it is also the least desirable due to the detrimental environmental impact of methane and other harmful chemicals. According to the European Commission’s Environmental Data Centre on Waste, each person in Europe currently produces an average of half a tonne of potential “secondary raw materials” such as metals, wood, glass, paper and plastics each year6. Only 40% of these materials are recycled. In some countries, 80% still goes to landfill sites. In other words, potential resources that could be recycled, recovered and reused have been clogging up landfills and causing unnecessary pollution.

Smart bins could help councils address these issues. Leveraging on the data captured through sensors in these bins, organizations responsible for refuse collection can analyze prevalent waste disposal habits to better understand, incentivize and ultimately change consumer behaviours.

The future of cleaner and greener refuse collection

Whether the waste is reused, recycled or buried in landfill sites, it will still come at a cost.

But as increasingly sophisticated technologies enable refuse collectors to improve efficiency, hold consumers to greater accountability and even change consumer behaviours towards waste management, their financial and environmental impact are invaluable.

As Ecube and Mic-O-Data already demonstrated, M2M technology can be a powerful ally for governments and businesses, delivering economical and sustainable ways to meet the waste management demands of a growing urban population. This is particularly important for Asia Pacific, which has been widely touted as a key growth engine for the global economy.

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Category: Green corporations, Green ICT, Recycling

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