The earth's population continues to grow, and so do the quantities of waste that are produced every day. According to the United Nations, about 70% of the world's population will live in large urban centers by 2050. This concentration of people in metropolitan spaces worries many people, because uncontrolled growth is often synonymous with poor sustainability. Thus, all large communities are faced with a very important challenge, that of waste management. Certainly not a new problem, even today it has many inefficiencies and requires a great waste of economic and material resources. These inefficiencies are linked to mainly manual collection methods and outdated logistical processes, which are not able to easily adapt to changes in citizens. On the other hand, the development of the Internet of Things provides public decision makers with various advanced technologies that can greatly improve this service. This is smart waste management.
Smart waste management uses technology to make waste management more efficient. Generally, the waste we produce, both at home and when we are out, is thrown into garbage collection bins. One of the most significant difficulties for municipalities is knowing if the bins are full or not and when to empty them. Smart waste management solves this problem, avoiding that an empty bin is in the path of the vehicles that empty the bins, also preventing a bin from remaining full for a week or even more. The forecasts for the sector in the coming years are positive: according to the recent data presented by the "Smart Waste" report, by Navigant Research, the market for technologies and services for the intelligent treatment of waste globally will reach a value of over 42 billion dollars by 2023.
But what are the technologies that are used? Usually the waste containers are equipped with sensors that measure all kinds of data: the filling level of the container, the temperature, the humidity, the weight of the waste, the distribution of the quantity of waste thrown in during the day or the week; It is also possible to produce 3D images of the content, from different observation points. The containers are equipped with a GPS module, which is necessary to place them geographically exactly. These sensors can be applied to containers of the most disparate shapes, regardless of whether their content is solid or liquid. Data collection takes place cyclically throughout the day.
There is also a central system that manages and analyzes the data collected in the individual bins, which can thus be exploited to develop service optimization strategies: route efficiency, cost cutting, reduction of the environmental footprint, improvement of working conditions for operators. Monitoring is the first step in saving.
Smart waste management systems usually do not require large bandwidths for correct data transmission: 2G technology is fully suited to the set objectives.
This system integrates with smartphone applications that work as navigators, suggesting the operators of waste collection companies the best way to empty all bins. When the driver opens the app, all the bins that, according to the data analysis, are already full or will be full by the end of the day are placed on the route. The operator must thus follow the instructions of a voice, which indicates the street and the bins to be emptied. The process is dynamic: if a container that was not considered for collection fills up earlier than expected, the nearest vehicle is alerted and changes its route in order to empty it. This way vehicle drivers finish their daily work faster. Of course, vehicle route data is also collected: average journey time, fuel costs, time required for emptying.
There are also smartphone applications for ordinary citizens, who can easily access information on waste collection baskets: check the status of the containers located nearby and view the disposal forecasts, to dispose of their waste after municipal collection. The application can be customized according to the user's profile with the possibility, for example, to register a favorite container, closer to one's residence. In this way, the application can automatically check the status of the preferred container and pass information via a pop-up: if the compartment has a maximum filling level, a second available compartment option automatically appears.
Prototyping smart containers, developing apps and launching experimentation activities in different parts of the world show that the proposed system can effectively change people's waste habits and optimize economic and material resources. And there is still a lot of room for improvement: existing services can be further improved thanks to the addition of new tools that interact with the central system.
Translated by Veronica Giustiniani