Waste collection can be a dirty job, with overflowing and rodent-infested bins being emptied too late and refuse trucks spewing carbon emissions and wasting fuel because of inefficient collection routes.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Smart waste management technologies are cleaning up the sector, helping to reduce the operational costs and environmental problems associated with inefficient waste collection.
A Navigant Research report expects the smart waste collection technology market to grow from $57.6 million in 2016 to over $223.6 million in 2025, representing a compound annual growth rate of 16.3 percent.
This market includes products like fill-level sensors that provide real-time information on how full a bin is and alert owners when the bin needs to be emptied. It also includes software for managing collection data and providing route optimization — all technologies that help waste and recycling companies save time and fuel on routes and allow them to use labor and fleet resources more efficiently.
Report author and Navigant Research analyst Christina Jung told Environmental Leader she can’t share pricing information but adds that companies are offering monthly subscription options to overcome the upfront cost barrier to smart waste collection technologies.
“So the technology is there and financing model is there — but there is lack of awareness about the effectiveness of smart waste collection technology, plus waste collection may be not a municipality’s top concern anyway.”
But it is becoming more of a concern — both for cities and waste management companies — and Jung said there are three primary drivers for this market growth: “Operational cost reduction, environment, health and safety and lastly a push for smart city applications.
“It’s pretty obvious that the current system is not at all cost efficient,” Jung explained. “To avoid collecting garbage too often, smart waste management collection technologies are more efficient when it comes to avoiding wasted fuel, labor hours and CO2 emissions.”
From an EHS standpoint, smart waste collection can help municipalities and private waste management companies avoid complaints about smelly pick-up locations or rat infestations.
And as communities increasingly look to smart city technologies to improve street lighting energy efficiency as well as traffic flow, among other benefits, city leaders are realizing that smart waste management can also help them meet sustainability goals (like zero waste) and improve services for residents. Jung points to Bigbelly’s solar-powered, Wi-Fi-enabled waste and recycling bins in New York City as an example of this.
The waste management company’s solar-powered trash and recycling bins already come equipped with sensors that analyze data about what is being trashed and recycled and notify collectors about when a bin is too full and needs a pick-up. Last year Los Angeles’s Downtown Center Business Improvement District expanded its use of the Bigbelly smart waste and recycling system after experiencing cleaner streets and sidewalks, reduced waste collection costs, improved overall operational efficiency, and increased waste and recycling disposal by pedestrians.
Earlier this year Bigbelly began a series of pilot tests with New York’s Downtown Alliance to turn its bins into hotspots by installing Wi-Fi units inside them.
“Smart city projects have traditionally focused more on smart lighting and network infrastructure with smart waste making up a smaller piece of that — but it’s still happening,” Jung said.
In addition to municipalities and business districts, Bigbelly’s customers include colleges and universities, healthcare facilities, and corporations. The company is one of the key industry players to watch, according to Navigant Research; so are Enevo, SmartBin and Ecube Labs.
Enevo and SmartBin both provide fill-level sensors and remote waste compactor monitoring and analytics that waste management companies and municipalities can install in their bins. Both started in Europe although SmartBin was acquired by US-based sensor technology firm OnePlus in June. Shortly after the purchase, TDC, which is Denmark’s largest telecoms company, and Cisco rolled out their smart city project that covers all of Denmark and includes SmartBin’s intelligent waste monitoring system.
Another industry leader, Jung says is South Korean-startup Ecube, which, similar to Bigbelly, sells its owns solar-powered, sensor-equipped smart waste and recycling compactors. The company says its compactors can hold up to eight times the waste of standard trash bins. They also monitor real-time bin fill-levels and optimize collection schedules and routes.
Ecube posted $873,000 in revenue last year and has set a $5 million goal for 2016, Jung says. She admits it may not be entirely realistic but says “it’s good to set high expectations.”
We’ll wait and see if the smart-waste startup hits the $5 million revenue mark. One thing that is a safe bet: smart waste technologies are growing in value and will continue to play a bigger role in helping private corporations and public entities improve efficiencies and meet their waste reduction goals.