Circular economy, AI, and digital transformation (DT) are terms that come up with increasing frequency when we talk about efficient waste management. The demand for smart solutions, sustainable approaches to garbage collection and treatment increases as we move towards an environmentally friendly economy. So, at TEAM International we’ve decided to explore how digitalization in waste management can help to reimagine the sector and deal with global environmental problems. Are you with us?
Digital technology as the basis for efficient waste management systems
The world produces over 2 billion tons of solid waste per year and at minimum 33 percent of that garbage goes to landfills or leaks into the environment. The mismanagement of trash is a global challenge that requires urgent actions if we want to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Furthermore, driven by population growth and quick urbanization, annual garbage production is predicted to reach 3.4 billion tons by 2050.
All these numbers prove that very soon we will face environmental, safety, and health consequences. Solid waste is the main source of methane, a GHG pollutant that is 80 times more impactful than carbon dioxide (CO2) in a 20-year timeframe. Uncollected garbage also leads to water and air pollution, the spread of harmful bacteria, and health impacts such as respiratory diseases.
Traditional methods of handling and sorting garbage fail either to address climate challenges or cope with an alarming upsurge in global rubbish. So, how will we protect the planet and improve recycling rates? With the help of digitalization in waste management.
Benefits of technology solutions for industry players
Modern digital advancements offer multiple ways to solve our growing garbage problem. Below, we highlight the benefits of waste management technology solutions and how they can help you build future-proof waste cycles.
1. Better transparency in processes, systems, and supply chains
Cloud platforms, monitoring systems, and IoT devices can ensure better visibility of waste planning processes and operations. This allows you to shift from allocating resources based on assumptions and instead analyze up-to-date information to improve operations.
Collaboration and openness among all the actors of the supply chain are vital for sustainable results and circular economy. So, we can see the emergence of solutions like Recykal—a platform that connects recyclers, collectors, and waste producers to facilitate traceable material flows and create digital marketplaces. Waste management technologies that add transparency ensure correct handling, effective garbage disposal, and fair payments to contractors.
Meanwhile, the start-up Circularise uses blockchain for supply chain transparency and trusted data-sharing without disclosing datasets or partners. Their smart questioning system allows any user to check a product’s materials sourcing across the supply chain using QR codes or RFID tags. Additionally, companies utilize blockchain technology to track payments for waste pickers. Meanwhile, Plastic Bank encourages consumer plastic recycling by rewarding collectors with digital tokens, which they can exchange for money.
2. Smarter waste transport routing optimization
Refuse collection vehicles still follow predefined routes on a fixed schedule, which is an outdated and inefficient garbage transportation practice. The high costs and excessive resource utilization offered by this model are factors that contribute to the need for digitalization in waste management.
Navigation and route planning software provide new approaches to managing garbage collection routes using sensory and GPS data. The solution allows you to track the fill level of trash bins, distance, and traffic patterns to identify the most efficient course. By doing so, you will maximize the use of resources, as well as improve route and service quality. This reduces travel distance, minimizes carbon emissions by up to 22 percent, and lowers costs by 19 percent compared to the traditional system.
3. More accurate sorting through automation technology
The intelligent process automation and RPA market is growing exponentially, and it is expected to reach 13.4 billion by 2028, rising from 2 billion in 2021. Automation use cases are successfully proliferating in the waste management sector too.
Robotics and AI applications like vision and deep learning systems can significantly improve the sorting performance of different waste streams. Automation technology can accurately identify various agents and distinguish nuances of the same material using AI algorithms and cameras. Then robotic arms pick those items from the belt. For instance, ZenRobotics can handle 2,000 picks per hour with an accuracy of up to 98 percent. So, automation helps you reduce labor costs and improve sorting precision and speed by accurately separating tons of trash per day.
4. Enhanced recycling rates with robot recyclers
San Francisco diverts nearly 80 percent of its garbage from landfills, showing the highest recycling rates in the US. In part, the city achieved that through its partnership with Recology, a waste collection company that installed robotics to recover recyclable materials.
AI-enabled robots can assist in controlling the quality of recovered garbage that will re-enter the production process as secondary raw materials. So, in addition to higher income from recyclables, you can reduce the demand for resource-intense manufacturing of new raw materials. This is particularly evident in aluminum recycling, which uses just 5 percent of the power required for primary production.
Furthermore, robotics is particularly valuable in waste streams comprising hazardous garbage and digital recycling as it reduces workers’ contact with harmful materials. Employees face health hazards working around conveyors, heavy equipment, and dealing with unsafe garbage like household chemicals, sharp metal, motor oil, batteries, and more. As a result, recycling workers encounter twice above average injury rates. So, digitalization in waste management through intelligent automation will help you minimize accidents and health risks.
5. Reduced environmental impact using waste management technologies
Landfill emissions comprise 99 percent of CO2 and methane, the main GHG pollutants. In 2019, US landfills released 114.5 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent to methane.
Waste-to-energy machines generate sustainable power sources and prevent non-renewable garbage from ending up in landfills. The gasification technique uses high temperatures to convert garbage into synthetic gas to provide energy, heat, and hydrogen. This method is more environmentally friendly and 30 percent more effective than incineration in electricity production. Gasification can preclude 83 million tons of carbon emissions annually in California alone and reduce landfill garbage by 95 percent, preventing methane emissions.
Speaking of green waste management technology, trash compactors with solar panels help bring down GHG emissions by cutting down collection trips. These intelligent machines hold up to five times more garbage than traditional bins by compressing the accumulated trash using green solar energy. Philadelphia reported more efficient waste management and reduced pickups from 17 to three per week, thus saving $800,000 per year.
Finally, advanced data analytics services allow you to examine large data trends to initiate strategic changes, improve operating models, and develop more sustainable practices. The sector is directly connected to the circular economy and requires digitalization in waste management processes to enable it. We know by experience that a comprehensive digital transformation strategy is a key element for creating intelligent workflows and driving innovation. So, we suggest you find a reliable partner to integrate smart equipment strategically and achieve SDGs, including:
Transformation towards a more sustainable and cleaner future
Climate crisis, piles of garbage, and global regulations regarding zero-waste and resource efficiency make it clear that industry transformation is vital and inevitable. But with the right tools, transparent strategy, and experienced team this journey can become smooth and effective. At TEAM International, we believe that a data-driven approach backed by modern tech solutions and strategic planning is the key to efficient waste management. Contact us today and we will be happy to help introduce sustainability into your processes.