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There ain’t no Waste for the Wicked

Towards a More Sustainable and Efficient Waste Management

Much of what we have today, both in terms of products and industrial constructs, we owe it to a true revolution, a historical dealbreaker: the industrial revolution.

The consequence of heavy industrialization during the 19th and 20th century, however, did not only affect the industrial aspects of society but passed on the next generations several social challenges as well, such as – although unfortunately not limited to – heavy urbanization and the shift to a consumer society based on a linear economy, that is a mode of production that only deals with the extraction, production and disposal of material once we’re done with it.

Today, this led to disastrous consequences and left us with one of the hardest challenges of our time: the return to a circular economy.

What is a Circular Economy?

In simple terms, a circular economy is the opposite of a linear model of consumption. As we saw just here above, a linear economy only deals with the birth and the death of a product, from the extraction to the disposal of the used material, from “Cradle to Grave”.

In a circular model of consumption, instead, the product receives new life by means of reparations, reuse, remanufacturing or (if unrepairable) recycling, in order to reuse the material for new purposes.

In general, this model foresees two cycles: a technical and a biological one, as well-illustrated by this graph of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Food and biological materials become compost through composting or anaerobic processes, regenerating systems like soil. This, in turn, becomes a solid basis for industries such as renewable energy and food. On the other hand, the technical cycle deals with the recovery and the restoration of products, components, materials, basically everything that can be given a new life.

In a perfectly circular economy, hence, we have little to zero waste ending up in landfills or incinerators, building and rebuilding the overall system’s health. However, achieving it might not be that simple. To reach such a high level of circular performance we need strong management and infrastructure behind, which it’s not the case in some regions or cities and even in some countries.

What we need, then, is to pay close attention not only to the outcome, the result of what we should achieve, but also the road to the goal, that passes through a complete overhaul of the waste management of our cities and countryside.

The Impact of New Technologies

In order to have an efficient waste management strategy, we have to collect the urban residual waste in a timely manner from containers that provide unambiguous information related to its serial number, the volume of residual waste, status (accidental falls, impacts, placement, fires, etc.), and collection time and date. (Some of these data can be even gathered for domestic utilities, such as door-to-door recycling collection.)

The optimization of collection operations, together with the fleet management of garbage trucks, can be achieved thanks to the information gathered in near real-time from smart tracking devices placed inside the containers. This way, we can calculate the journey and the collection of waste on the basis of the actual volume of waste in the containers.

This allows us to have a much more detailed analysis of the actual use of containers, their health status and potential maintenance necessities, as well as the overall optimization of the journey of garbage trucks around the city and their effectiveness.

The Sensoworks Waste Management Solution

To have efficient and functioning waste management activities, Sensoworks came up with a solution for the smart tracking and monitoring of garbage containers: a device installed inside the container – or integrated during the container’s production – to monitor the volume of contained residual waste in real-time. This way, collectors will always be updated on how full the container is and they can design a collecting plan according to the capacity of the fleet. Moreover, the device will report potential anomalies, such as overturning, fire, movement, and impacts, so as to give the chance to intervene as soon as possible if such events occur.

The detector of the residual waste load factor will be placed on the upper part of each container to identify the percentage of residual waste contained through a series of ultrasound sensors. We chose to install it on the upper part of the container on the internal side of the lid for the following reasons:

  • From a geometrical point of view, it is the most efficient position to identify the degree of waste inside the container;
  • The device is less vulnerable to wasting and collecting activities and potential acts of vandalism.

The detector is made up of the following parts:

  • A data acquisition, processing and transmission unit to gather data from the different installed sensors (multi-operator eSim, wifi);
  • 5 acoustic sensors to survey the volume of residual waste in the container;
  • A triaxial inclination accelerometer;
  • A carbon monoxide detector;
  • 2 power modules.

In further detail, the components are designed as follows:

The acoustic sensors are placed in different positions compared to the acquisition unit. 4 of 5 sensors are placed with a circa 45° inclination compared with the case’s and the container’s diagonal axis. The central acoustic sensor is placed with a 90° inclination compared with the diagonal axis of the device. As for the acquisition of data, the sensors will trigger sequentially and not simultaneously, so as to avoid false echo or reverb phenomena polluting the data and providing wrong information.

The accelerometer provides the measurement of acceleration and inclination of the device, besides the measurement of acceleration and inclination of the container itself. Through the transfer of data to the console and the headquarter, this allows for the verification of garbage collecting activities and potential asset variations due to accidental events (accidental impacts with vehicles and consequent damage to the container, acts of vandalism and potential overturning, etc.).

The carbon monoxide detector provides us with the measurement of the quantity of gas inside the container. It detects smoke due to accidental or contrived fires (for instance, due to acts of vandalism). The device is set up to send alarms to the console – and hence to the headquarters – if tracked values exceed certain thresholds (utterly configurable) and to consequently alert law enforcement units such as police or firefighters to control the damage and limit the spread to the surroundings.

The monitoring solution is powered by two internal or external power modules. The modules can be replaced when the installation of a recharging module is not a viable option. Moreover, the monitoring solution can also present a solar panel placed on the container’s lid.

Conclusion

To achieve sustainability and circularity for our economy, we cannot ignore the whole management of our residual waste and where these wind up at the end of their life cycle. Having precise, constant monitoring and measurements of the volume of garbage and the status of containers help us to organize and improve collecting and disposal activities, bringing our cities – and our society – one step closer to a truly sustainable environment.

We all want to change the world and the many ways we’re treating it. We want that too. But we also know that to change the greater, we need to start from the smaller. That is, we need to start from our neighborhoods, cities, counties. Sensoworks wants to take part in this revolution with its solutions too.