No doubt that the world is creating increasing amounts of trash. In fact, the amount of solid trash produced globally is expected to double by 2025. As urban centers densify and ever-larger numbers of people live in concentrated spaces, waste accumulates at a faster rate and must be managed more intelligently. This is especially true for wealthier regions, whose residents produce more trash per capita than less economically advantaged regions. The issue is even more urgent in places with high heat or humidity, where standing trash can quickly cause rodent and other pest problems.
Fortunately, the Internet of Things (IoT) has addressed waste management head-on and has direct solutions for trash collection, and the city of Atlanta has developed multiple initiatives related to smart waste management that improve the speed, efficiency and responsiveness of the city’s garbage removal processes.
Smart trash bins
Since waste accumulates with varying speed and intensity as a function of the placement of the garbage receptacle, its size, and the number of people (or businesses) using it, IoT has excellent solutions that take advantage of these highly-measurable qualities. IoT sensors can measure the filling rate and real-time volume of receptacles to optimize collection resources and trigger maintenance, when necessary.
The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, for example, serves over 100 million people annually, and has multiple parallel projects destined to reduce the airport’s environmental footprint. In terms of the trash it produces, the airport has installed smart compactor trash bins, which reduce per-bin collection from an average of five times a day, down to just once a day. The bins provide the added consumer value of reducing overflows and liquid spills, eliminating the need for users to touch the bin door and as well taking up less space than a traditional bin.
Outside of the airport, this type of technology has also proven useful. Solar-powered trash compactor bins, provided by BigBelly, are located in multiple areas throughout the downtown metropolitan area. Not only do the bins optimize trash collection in their micro-environment, but they also provide important analytics such as what times of day see more foot-traffic, what types of recyclables consumers are disposing of, etc.
Data centers on wheels
Another smart-waste initiative from Atlanta has been the decision to turn the city’s fleet of solid waste, recycling and yard waste trucks into virtual roving data centers. Each waste truck is outfitted with Rubicon Global’s waste-collection app, linked back to its main control and analytics platform overseen by the city and Rubicon engineers. The intention of the truck app is to improve operational efficiency and customer service, both eventually leading to tax savings for Atlanta residents.
The data collection from the trucks’ daily routes provides valuable data for future planning for sustainability initiatives. The real-time data informs analytics on landfill usage and recycling rates and optimization, for example. The city can also gauge carbon emission reduction activities via route optimization. Since the trucks drive nearly every city street nearly every day, the platform can also be used to capture information as varied as the number of potholes and vacant houses on the route, to testing for air quality or noise pollution.
Waste takes many different forms
In addition to residential and business trash, there is a whole array of non-solid waste that can be managed through IoT. The city of Atlanta has been monitoring its air quality using sensors for many years but now other IoT-linked sensors are available to monitor waterways, alert for fog or forest-fire smoke, and check for more dangerous pollutants related to industrial chemical spills or even radioactive particles in the air, all linked to a central monitoring system.
IoT manages Atlanta’s waste
Atlanta is at the vanguard of applying IoT technologies to its trash collection activities. IoT helps optimize garbage collection routes, reduce the number of times a bin needs to be emptied, make trash collection a cleaner operation, and monitor pollutants and contaminants. IoT sensors also provide the added benefit of producing terabytes of data which can be analyzed with the intent of optimizing current processes as well as planning for the future.