Perhaps nothing is so routine as garbage day. At least once a week in neighborhoods around the world, garbage trucks hit the streets to empty waste and recycling bins at homes and businesses.
Although these routes are carefully scheduled based on time and geographic location, they are not always the most efficient. The trucks come whether the bins are empty or full. Bins get lost or stolen, and they need to be replaced.
For waste management companies, that means wasted fuel and increased pollution for less efficient routes.
But what if communities could take something as common as waste management and make it smarter? What would smart waste management look like and who would benefit?
Smart Waste Management
Imagine bins that look just like the ones at your work or home. But these bins are equipped with sensors that determine when they are full.
Without any human interaction, those little sensors report back to the waste management company via wireless connections. At that point, efficient pick-up routes are created automatically, thanks to route planning software.
Waste management companies can generate routes only for customers who require service, plus send those routes to drivers via mobile devices. Tracking drivers helps gather more data, which also can be used to improve performance. Plus, with data on the volume required by routes, the fleet can be optimized.
The media calls this technology the Internet of Things (IoT), which refers to devices that collect data and then connect to other devices to exchange data. These devices are sometimes called “smart,” which means they are communicating without human intervention.
For the waste management companies, smart bins and related IoT technology offers many efficiencies—including optimized routes, improved asset tracking and more accurate cost analysis. Their operations become smarter, meaning that they are more efficient and less wasteful.
The value is in the data, which waste management companies can use to optimize their resources. Collection operations become smarter and more efficient, plus customer service is improved.
What’s more, there are also financial benefits. Suddenly, customers are paying for the waste they generate, instead of the less-efficient service schedule based on time. If you generate more waste, you pay more money. If you generate less, you pay less as well.
The Future is Here
While this scenario may sound futuristic, the future is here already. Companies are already developing and using smart bins, and routes for anything can be automatically optimized, thanks to route planning software.
The city of Edinburgh, Scotland, is already testing smart waste management in a trial project that includes of 100 trash bins in the city center. Like many cities around the world, Edinburgh was looking for a solution that would help them manage waste receptacles in busy locations, which tended to fill up quickly and resulted in complaints from the public.
In cooperation with Enevo, a waste collection technology company, the city installed smart waste bins in key areas. Sensors in the trash bins use ultrasonic technology to periodically send out a signal and measure the reflection within the bin to assess how full it is. Plus, a heat sensor will send an alert if there’s a fire in a bin.
This data is sent to the city council’s waste management system. Once there, computers will provide alerts in cases such as an urgent need to empty a bin. But that’s just the beginning—the data also helps the city council plan efficient collection routes as well as find illegal waste dumping if there’s anomalies over time.
So far, the experiment has been a success. In busy areas of the city, officials report that collections increased by 24% and more.
Yet while trash collections in heavy use areas have increased, city officials have found they can reduce overall collections by about 80% because they reduced wasted time and fuel emptying bins that were no more than half full. Additionally, that means city employees could spend their time more productively
The trial in Edinburgh shows the promise of smart waste management as well as the potential of optimized route planning. The future is here. The only question is how long other communities will take to discover how smart technology can help them with waste management issues—providing better service to the public while also maintaining fiscal responsibility.
Inbal Axelrod is the co-founder and CMO at MyRouteOnline, multiple stop route planner that helps making our world greener. Waste management and recycling are just two of the businesses using our Route Planning software. Everyone visiting multiple locations can get the most efficient route and spend less time on the road. This means fewer greenhouse gas emissions, a more compact carbon footprint, better air quality, and less noise pollution.