Waste Management Challenges: How IoT Could Help Turn Waste into a Resource While Building a Net Zero Culture

Waste management is often overlooked when it comes to mapping sustainability plans. Unbeknown to many, waste management is a critical part of the Net Zero Solution.

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In 2021 Australia’s annual emissions from waste were 13.2Mt CO2-e. It is generally recognised that there is a strong relationship between the effective management of solid wastes and a good quality of life and a healthy environment. The attractiveness of the country to foreign visitors and investments is very much influenced by a clean and healthy environment.

However, waste management is often overlooked when it comes to mapping sustainability plans. Unbeknown to many, waste management is a critical part of the Net Zero solution. In fact, even the Commonwealth Government realised the need to transition to a “circular economy which reflects new ways of thinking about waste and using Australia’s resources. 

Through the National Waste Action Plan 2019 (NWPAP), the Australian Government commits to reducing the country’s generated wastes accelerating its recovery targets and reducing dependency on landfills. Recycling, materials recovery, and waste management are significant parts of Australia’s economy.  

Some of the activities and programs supporting the NWPAP are: 

  • Improving reporting and data related to waste. 
  • Waste reduction and harmonisation approaches across states and territories. 
  • Funding of clean energy technologies including some waste to energy technologies. 

Strengthening these programs also support Australia’s manufacturing sector, which increases the recovery rate and adds a billion dollars to the country’s GDP. In addition, these strategies highlight Australia’s competitive edge in recycling and clean energy. 

However, these strategies to advance waste management need a modern approach, and the key is the Internet of Things or IoT. How can IoT help Australia turn waste into a resource while building a Net Zero culture? 

Defining the Internet of Things (IoT) 

The Internet of Things or IoT was proposed by Kevin Ashton two decades ago, and his concept was to interconnect all electronic devices via the internet. Interconnecting everyday devices go beyond hand-held devices like tablets or smartphones – these include refrigerators, HVAC, LED lighting systems, televisions, industrial machinery, and of course waste management systems. 

Connected devices or smart gadgets are capable of generating and capturing data from every activity and communicating with other devices. Data from these smart gadgets are exchanged in real-time, and these help them perform their tasks without the need for human intervention. It’s basically machine learning, machine-to-machine connectivity, and AI automation at its best. 

Recommended Read: Why Local Councils' Waste Management Efforts Are Crucial To Achieve Net Zero 2050?

How IoT Addresses the Challenges of Waste Management 

Today, waste collection is predominantly performed using fixed collection times and routes. This is characterised by some bins overflowing requiring unnecessary cleanup costs, while other bins are nearly empty making waste collection unnecessary. Yet, other bins are contaminated due to incorrect disposal techniques — this type of inefficiency wastes both time and money and is harmful for the environment.

This is where modern technology and the IoT steps in as a solution to address these challenges. How you may ask.

Firstly, sensors that measure bin level, weight, presence of fire and type of waste are installed. The sensors then transmit data periodically via wireless networks to a cloud database. The data is analysed, interrogated, and optimised, providing actionable data insights to pinpoint areas for efficiency improvement.

Data from the bin level sensors is used to identify which bins need to be picked up and then algorithms select optimum routes for waste collection trucks. As the bins are only emptied when they need to be, emissions and costs from transport are reduced, and staff rosters can be predicted in advance and optimised. It also provides real time data so if a scheduled bin collection is missed, it will automatically be flagged reducing if not eliminating missed pickups and overflows.

Fire sensors are connected into local fire stations enabling the quickest possible response times minimising emissions from combustible materials.

The IoT also leverages machine learning and AI. These two technologies can transform urban bins into smart waste containers. They can help identify and categorise waste as either biodegradable, hazardous/medical, or non-biodegradable. IoT helps correct occasional human mistakes and reminds people of their duty to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

This dual outcome of educating people for future and ensuring bins don’t get contaminated, enables all waste to be treated appropriately, including diverting organic waste from landfill, significantly reducing the production of methane, which has a global warming potential of approximately 28x CO2

Weight sensors in bins can be used to estimate truck loads. Algorithms then identify optimised routes ensuring trucks aren’t overloaded to reduce the likelihood of breakdowns and streets with lower load limits are scheduled for early in the route. This data also enables more accurate user pays commercial models to be developed and implemented.

When all these data points are combined together, the opportunities are endless — from education programs to the identification of the high-volume waste types — so that strategies can be implemented to introduce lower impact alternatives.

Whether a local government or a private enterprise there are IoT waste measures you can take to reduce your emissions.

Implementation of these IoT waste measures will assist in continuing to reduce our CO2 emissions, but this is not everything, there’s also further gains to be had by transitioning diesel garbage truck fleets over to electric vehicles and using them for dual purposes includingsmart sensors that identify, log and track road damage, eliminating the vast majority of road inspections that are currently undertaken.

Technology is here to help humans where they struggle, which is proper waste disposal. The IoT doesn’t only streamline waste collection or optimise collection routes to decrease CO2 emissions; IoT is here to bring the citizens to the forefront of their daily waste footprints. By leveraging technology, organisations can more effectively manage their own waste, develop sustainable waste habits, and be part of the overall Net Zero 2050 solution. 

Connect with Ecosave to understand how IoT and other digitally enabled solutions can help your organisation achieve its sustainability objectives. Call us at 1300 55 77 64!

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