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Tackling waste through technology

2018 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for the improvement and technological advancement of global waste management sectors. Not only are individual waste streams being addressed with specific solutions, but better answers are being found for some of the perennial challenges of the industry as a whole.

As the months' pass, this year is demonstrating a greater sense of willingness on the part of key waste management players to break away from antiquated thinking and embrace new methodologies in a manner that would have been almost unthinkable only a few years previously. With increasing landfill closures and sustainable waste management targets being incorporated into national agendas for countries across the world, momentum seems to be building for a much more technologically-empowered approach towards the age-old problem of how to grow economies while successfully handling the by-product of waste.

Big data for big rubbish heaps: understanding waste levels with greater clarity and accuracy

Making the waste industry less wasteful – this may sound like a very meta concept but in reality it is simply the idea of sustainability combining with sound business sense. Like any other industry, waste management operations generate vast quantities of data that can be analysed and interpreted to help operators make vital efficiency gains across the board.

Currently, fleet data capture technologies like windshield-mounted cameras and tablets for waste truck drivers are allowing cloud-based apps to connect to data management platforms which can plan much more efficient routes, saving time, money, fuel and carbon emissions into the bargain. However, successfully collating and leveraging data can drive operational efficiency in the waste management sector in a wide variety of ways. For example, by gaining a wholly accurate picture of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions rates of waste operations, collection to deposit costs, GHG savings from recycling, anaerobic digestion, and various other key metrics, companies can confidently determine the most cost-effective way to update or amend their operations. Similarly, they can provide regulatory authorities with accurate sustainability reporting and subsequently gauge the plausibility of going after zero-waste accreditation or other environmental certification.

Robotic helpers: Automation is set to make light work of waste sorting and more

Expect to see more frequent occurrences of waste companies making infrastructure improvements that take advantage of the advancement of automation technologies, with advanced robotics and machine learning allowing for enhanced collection efficiency and improved sorting capabilities at recycling plants. Already, Dubai’s Al Mamzar area is enjoying the benefits of enhanced vehicles that automatically pick up and empty bins from either side of the road and then automatically clean and sterilise the containers before putting them back in place.

As the Internet of Things (IoT) approach allows for the increasingly fluid connection of multiple systems, even the complicated legacy issues affecting larger waste management companies can be overcome, allowing for the integration of revolutionary automation technologies.

Drones are also playing an increasingly important role in the solid waste industry, not only by monitoring and assessing landfill sites more efficiently than can be done on foot, they’re also seeing more frequent use in detecting radiation and air quality levels. In Dubai, drones are now an established means of finding unauthorised waste dumping hotspots in the desert and tagging offenders cars for the serving of future warnings or, ultimately, fines.

Closing the loop: Creating circular supply chains with waste

Recent estimates suggest that changing the currently “linear” supply chain models associated with waste (extract/produce, consume, collect, deposit in landfill) into circular supply chains (manufacturing, consumption, collection, sortation, processing, all within a continuous loop) could quickly become a $2 trillion opportunity in the US alone by 2030. Already, efforts from the US’s Closed Loop Fund – designed to help municipalities adopt this model of waste management – have allowed for 250,000 tonnes of waste to be diverted from landfill, saving 600,00 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Successfully sorting out waste: The impact of technological advancements

The pace of change is quickening in many regions of the global waste management industry as service providers and national governments both realise that the antiquated landfill system is no longer a tenable position to hold to in an age where environmental concerns demand a more efficient and sustainable answer. This, coupled with the significant cost benefits offered by improving operations through emerging technology integration, is quickly encouraging waste management companies of all sizes to reassess their operational setup and look for opportunities to adopt a more technological approach.

With the global smart waste management market expected to achieve a CAGR of almost 18% during the period 2018-2022, it’s becoming clear that 2018 marks the beginning of a paradigm shift for the business and politics of waste management as a whole, with exemplars across the world ready to deliver highly appealing use cases for the rest of the industry to emulate.


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