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The internet of garbage

​Waste not, want not – the familiar proverb cautions us to pay attention to what we throw away. Now, as IoT technology is applied to waste management, trash is getting smarter

First published on November 24, 2017

​Investment in the "Internet of Garbage" (IoG) is booming as it helps to address the growing problem of increasing waste and environmentally unfriendly practices across the globe. Figures from the World Bank estimate that global solid waste generation will rise from more than 3.5 million tonnes per day in 2010, to more than 6 million tonnes per day by 2025. The global cost of dealing with all that trash is rising too: from $205 billion a year in 2010 to $375 billion by 2025.

In line with this dramatic increase in waste, a report from Waste360, suggests that the global smart waste industry is set to grow from $57.6 million in 2016, to over $223.6 million by 2025.

We pick through a handful of examples to show how the IoT is fuelling the rise of the IoG and look at how connected devices are making garbage collection more informed, more efficient, and less resource-intensive.

Smarter trash cans

Intelligent garbage solutions company Bigbelly is a key player in redefining how we manage municipal waste. It offers smart, space-efficient garbage compactors for deployment in city spaces across 54 countries. Equipped with solar power compressor technology, these trash cans hold up to eight times more, while each compactor is fitted with a smart fill-level sensor that communicates when the garbage can is full via the cloud – informing garbage collectors in real-time to prevent overflow and influence collection routes.

Know your waste stream

It's not just trashcans that are changing; a range of internet-enabled sensors, which can be easily retrofitted, is also available. Shaped like a giant yellow button, Enevo is a Finnish IoT solution that provides high quality waste data analytics. For use across hauler and commercial industries, the wireless sensor not only monitors trash accumulation, predicting container overflow; it also reports on the data for longer-term waste stream improvement. Knowing that you're discarding a large quantity of organic matter might lead you to divert this waste to composting, for example. Crucially, Enevo's solution uses very little power – an important feature for battery-powered devices. It achieves this by reducing communication to a bare minimum by only exchanging data when there's a deviation in anticipated waste fill levels. This improves the efficiency for waste management services as they only have to dispatch a truck to empty bins when they need to be emptied.

Automatic collections

SmartTrash goes one step further: it is automatic. Branded "a fitness tracker for your trash equipment", SmartTrash offers a monitor for your trash that will manage everything for you. Once it's installed and calibrated for the relevant trash compactor, there's no need to check how full the compactor is, or even schedule collection hauls. The SmartTrash monitor stays in touch 24/7, independently communicating via wireless cellular data with the waste hauler as it analyzes its gamut of data and issues the POs for pickups.

The Uber of trash

Rubicon Global has been compared to the disruptive automotive company Uber because it uses a similar app-based platform to connect commercial waste generators to independent haulers on-demand. Rubicon's mission is to eradicate landfills and its vendor network handles the full range of disposal services, from hazardous materials to demolition waste. Targeting not just sustainability but cost efficiency, the app offers an in-depth waste stream costs evaluation, promising to recommend waste diversion options at the best price.

'The Green Giving Machine'

Aiming to eliminate toxic eWaste, eco-ATM is an innovative service that targets those old electronic gadgets you would otherwise leave languishing in a drawer, or worse – send to landfill. Offering "instant cash" for used devices, ecoATM kiosks provide an aggregated platform which uses the cloud to analyze a devices' condition, determining whether they should be re-used or recycled, and then ships them either to new consumers or to the eco-friendly smelting service Umicore.

Smart dust

TrashTrack hopes to better understand the challenges of waste management via the deployment of "smart dust". The project sees hundreds of tiny location-aware tags being attached to individual types of trash so these items can be tracked through the city's waste management system. These real-time networks of locatable and addressable micro-electromechanical systems create an intelligent 'dust' which can help waste management companies "understand the removal chain as we do the supply chain" and enable more efficient, data-driven decisions.

TAGGED IN internet of things; iot; connectivity; innovation