Waste management is one of the aspects of city life most people don’t notice at all – but when something goes wrong, the consequences are quite gruesome and city management has to act quickly to avoid a crisis. The intricate and quite often not very well optimised system for waste collection and disposal has potential weak links. As cities grow, urban population and consumption increase which means more garbage being handled by ineffective processes, causing a host of environmental and social challenges. Heaps of waste and overflowing bins are only the beginning of what might even become a health crisis. How do we avoid that? And how do we make sure that waste management is handled in the most efficient way no matter the size of the city, or how quickly it grows?
Understanding waste management
What happens between the moment someone throws a piece of trash into the bin and the moment it ends up in a landfill? Not many people get up early enough to witness the waste disposal vehicles going about their way, collecting communal waste from bins. After the vehicle is filled, it goes to the nearest waste disposal facility that has free capacity. This may be near the city, or sometimes hundreds of kilometres away. Seems pretty straightforward, but there are quite a few things that can go wrong along the way – most of them due to lack of communication and monitoring.
What can go wrong?
While growth is generally a good thing, when it comes to waste management it can be a potential problem. As cities across the globe continue to expand, old infrastructure struggles to accommodate the needs of an ever-growing population. Not only that but when the population grows, its consumption patterns also change, reverberating across the whole city ecosystem. Streets that were once calm suffer from congestion that impedes the work of waste management vehicles and waste bins are filled faster than they can be emptied. The result is not only ugly but potentially dangerous – heaps of garbage are the perfect breeding ground for rats, insects and different diseases.
Improving waste collection processes can significantly improve the living standard in any city.
How can modern technologies help?
Smart technologies can improve almost any aspect of life in the city, including waste management. It all begins with the installation of small IoT sensors in already available bins, thus creating a network that can send information about the fill level of each individual bin in real time. Waste collection vehicles and disposal facilities (landfills, incinerators and recycling plants) are also interlinked to show their capacity in real time. Then comes the back end – a sophisticated yet easy to navigate system that allows for quick adjustments whenever and wherever they are needed. Sensors provide the raw data needed to create an optimisation plan for the collection vehicles, and the back end calculates the optimal route for the vehicles every day, from collection to disposal.
This system allows city management to optimise the processes in areas that are more difficult to access by planning in advance for collection in times of the day when the traffic is low. It also provides the flexibility needed to create an efficient plan – waste collection only when it’s needed, not on a schedule that runs empty vehicles. Areas with specific needs such as production facilities can also be tended to.
What’s more, smart waste management systems can be integrated with other smart solutions such as traffic control to increase both systems’ productivity.
Which cities can benefit from smart waste management?
It’s a myth that only megapolises need smart technologies – cities of all sizes can benefit from them, especially those experiencing quick growth in population. Urban areas can grow more healthy if smart tech is implemented earlier in their development and contributes to informed decision-making on all levels of city management.