Smart Trash Cans Improve Waste Management

Smart trash cans

Imagine if your trash bin not only collected garbage, but helped better manage the waste you produce.

This is what the city of Barcelona, Spain, has done by placing monitoring sensors on recycling bins that send out an alert when full to help its residents reduce household waste and increase recycling. Similar programs are in place in other cities around the world.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is now being used to aid waste management companies and sanitation departments in tracking waste and recycling volumes. In Barcelona’s case, more than $4 billion in savings is projected in the next 10 years. With Internet-connected sensors embedded in the bins, collection frequency is determined by bin capacity alone rather than fixed collection schedules.

Waste management companies must address environmental concerns while also improving efficiency and reducing costs from initial collection to processing and landfill management. The use of sensors can help in all these areas, automating tasks such as monitoring and sorting waste.

The largest cost in waste management is the physical garbage collection from residential and commercial customers, says Brian Sheridan, Ph.D., director at Odour Monitoring Ireland, a provider of analytic and process engineering services.

Sensors and lights to indicate when trash and recycling bins are full can result in substantial cost savings, since garbage collectors don’t have to waste time checking all bins when some may only be partially full.

Garbage collected – now what?

After garbage is collected using sensor-enhanced bins, municipal solid waste or packaging waste is sorted at central locations and valuable materials are extracted, using sensors at the post-collection facilities to determine refuse types. These sensors can sort paper, plastics, glass, and valuable metals, as demonstrated by TOMRA, a provider of sensor-based sorting solutions for multiple industries. This reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills. The overall aim is to reuse or recycle all material, even if used as fuel.

Sensors are also being used to better manage landfills through perimeter sensors that monitor and ensure surrounding areas are within Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for groundwater contamination, for example.

From a logistics perspective, the waste-management process requires tremendous organization. Collecting, sorting, and processing waste as efficiently as possible is the key objective.

Diligent sorting and processing can also generate revenue.

“Even the waste that cannot be recycled is still seen as a commodity, as it can be used as a fuel,” adds Sheridan, citing one example, the Port of Rotterdam, as much of the electricity generated there comes from the burning of such waste via special incinerators used by the AVR, a European waste and power company. These incinerators convert waste to steam, heat and electricity.

One of the main drivers for this kind of innovation in the waste sector is widespread broadband penetration.

“[M2M] communication is the future. With network coverage becoming pervasive, the cost of connecting is continually dropping, and with the value that can be realized when devices are connected, it is clear that the Internet of Things is about to explode,” says Rick McConney, principal product design engineer at AT&T’s Foundry division.

This means that multiple sites, whether collection companies, recycling plants or power companies that incinerate waste, can seamlessly schedule deliveries, with one part of the process feeding the next.

Industry leaders are already working on other new IoT solutions for waste management. But with all the progress in making the trash bin the next smart connected product, it still doesn’t eliminate one task — the need to take the trash out to the bin.

This article by Michael O’Dwyer originally appeared on Forbes PTCVoice.

About Michelle Reis

Michelle Reis joined PTC in November 2013 as an Associate Editor within the marketing agency. She holds a Bachelor of Arts with a concentration in Communication. Prior to joining PTC, Michelle worked at EMC doing community management, editing, writing, and social media strategy for the Global Services thought leadership blog. You can follow her on Twitter: @Mreis_PTC
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