By combining the best features of data communications, drone technology, solar power and even cloud-based apps, technologically savvy waste management entities are finding themselves in an increasingly high-tech industry.

Looking at the waste and recycling industry, Phil Rodoni, chief technology officer at Rubicon, sees three big trends around the smart waste management evolution: the proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions for asset tracking, fill-level analysis and route optimization; smarter sorting with bins and devices that ensure items are put in the appropriate receptacle; and the expansion of diversion opportunities and maturation of networks to get materials to those facilities.

Rubicon is a technology company born in the category of the waste and recycling industry. Globally headquartered in Atlanta, Rubicon is a private company using tech for social good, to help turn neighborhoods into greener cities and smarter cities through solutions around sustainability, recycling and waste – all with a technology underpinning.

“With ‘single use’ selected as one of the key phrases of the year, rapid technological advancements are needed to enable the production of packaging that is recyclable and recoverable,” said David Rachelson, vice president of sustainability, Rubicon.

According to Kevin Haseney, a recycling expert and the district commander at JDog Junk Removal & Hauling Tampa, smart waste management is growing within the waste and recycling industry. An example of this trend is leveraging modern technical advances to develop new recycling solutions, like smart bins.

“Smart bins are highly advanced waste receptacles that have the ability to sort, collect and compact waste many times more efficiently than the traditional, everyday trash bin, Haseney said. “Using solar technology to power the device, a smart bin harnesses enough energy to run its other operative functions, such as the operation of a compactor, used to maximize the storage space within each bin.”

Another technological advancement Haseney is seeing is the utilization of a Wi-Fi operated system that notifies waste management systems when a bin is full and ready to be emptied. The benefits of this new process for waste maintenance include less fuel use and better time management for waste transportation.

“Ensuring that smart bins’ down time is at a mini­mum will prevent a full bin from becoming a deterrent to proper disposal,” Haseney said.

The team at 5280 Waste Solutions, a Denver-based waste management company that is using technology to streamline its own waste diversion and recycling percentages, has also created software that they make available to other waste management companies.

The team at 5280 believes the recycling and waste industry can’t have “smart” anything without a detailed understanding of the characteristics of every constituent part of the material flows beginning to end throughout the recycle ecosystem. “You also need comprehensive, high-level insight into the economic costs and benefits of the system working as a whole,” said Amanda Ladas, vice president of marketing at 5280.

5280’s sister company, Starlight, developed software for the waste management industry in two phases. Phase 1 is an integrated suite of mobile and cloud based apps that run live together over the Internet and touch, manage, collect data and optimize every aspect of a roll-off business. Features of these apps include customer mobile apps for ordering and payment, live inventory of containers, full billing system, centralized dispatch and smartphone apps for drivers that tie the entire system together.

As Ladas explained, Phase 2 builds on the detailed information gathered in the hauling software but adds a complete recycling management and tracking system that includes real-time material profiling and LEED reporting. Because the recycling system is integrated to the hauling system, contractors and even municipalities can have live dashboards and reporting that track diversion and recycling rates in detail by specific jobs, locations, material types, recycle destinations and re-use categories.

“5280 Waste Solutions is the ‘test bed’ for all new Starlight software developments,” Ladas said. “We have recently seen major C&D recycling centers moving toward the Starlight model, including Broad Run Recycling in Fairfax, Virginia. The benefits include streamlined operations, much higher accuracy and efficiency for material profiling, diversion tracking and customer recycling reporting.”

Indeed, Joe Steiger, channel sales manager, North America, at Trimble-Loadrite agrees that diversion rates are an important element in refuse tracking, including cost per ton of operation. These on-board weighing systems allow the operator to track data for the various types of material collected.

Trimble Loadrite weighing systems measure the weight of a waste dumpster being front-loaded into a garbage truck.

As Steiger explained, this weight (and the total for a run or day) can be uploaded to the Trimble InsightHQ cloud-based platform and/or ported to the onboard routing/dispatch systems on most fleet software.

This allows for weight tracking per customer or date or any other perimeter set by a waste company to analyze their fleet performance.

“Trimble Stratus is a cloud-based software platform that takes drone survey data, builds a 3D model and presents that data in an easy to use format allowing clients to monitor material movement and calculate volumes,” Steiger said. “And our VisionLink Landfill is a cloud-based dashboard with querying tools that give the back office visibility into airspace consumption and utilization in landfills.”

VisionLink Landfill tracks the compaction efforts of compactors equipped with machine control, and calculates the waste volumes placed and the compaction densities achieved in active cells to optimize compaction and maximize landfill life.

“On-board weighing systems are available from only a small amount of manufacturers and route management, weight data and invoicing systems can be sourced from an even smaller group of partners specializing in waste management,” Steiger said. “Trimble has partnered with several of the route dispatch software companies to integrate our payload specialty into their software to include the invoicing feature capabilities on some.”

One advantage of on-board weighing is the ability of the haulers to compare what the customer contracted for and the real weight of the refuse being tipped.

“When the end-user is overfilling a container, the hauler is paying out of pocket for the excess weight at the transfer station/landfill, which is very costly to the hauler,” Steiger said. “This payload data, automatically collected, can make a haul much more efficient in operation and when bidding for contracts.”

In addition, today’s onboard, dynamic weighing systems can operate in the background, with very little input from the vehicle operator, so the driver is not distracted from his/her principal tasks.

Landfill Monitoring

As a worksite mapping and analytics company, Propeller Aero makes software for high-accuracy GPS drone surveying, helping landfills monitor cell progress and fill rate. Back in 2014 Propeller saw an opportunity for commercial grade drones to provide survey-grade data to worksites that would help teams better understand the status landfill.

Compaction rates are the main metric of landfills and Propeller’s technology calculates remaining airspace of a specific cell or the entire landfill while also producing a 3D survey of a site today compared to its top-of-waste design. Knowing the remaining airspace and where may have been overfilled lets landfill managers track overall progress and see productivity for a given period.

According to Rory San Miguel, chief executive officer of Propeller Aero, with teams now flying their sites more frequently, they’re building up a visual history of the landfill. This timeline and 3D visualization make changes easy to spot, letting them see and measure settlement over time and place and identify if one part of the landfill settling faster than the rest. They’re also able to manage volumes by comparing volumes in active cells from one survey to the next.

“Surveying is an irreplaceable part of waste management, but it can be time-consuming and costly, and, depending on your operations, infrequent,” San Miguel said. “One of the largest trends in ‘smart waste management’ today is leveraging drone-mapping and analytics technology to collect all types of site data in new ways with more precision, and using platforms to analyze that data.” This boils down to making data-driven, informed decisions to keep operations cost-effective and running optimally. Up-to-date and accurate data are required to effectively manage cell volumes, see how much is going in on a weekly or monthly basis, and ensure the best compact rates possible.

As San Miguel explained, the first priority on any landfill is safety, from everyday safety plans to inspections to traffic management. These things take time and resources to get right, and they are mandatory, so any opportunity to trim man-hours off these tasks has a big draw, and because the surveys are accurate and up-to-date, the need for in-person inspections are decreased, or sometimes eliminated.

“Another major benefit we hear from users is cost savings,” San Miguel said. “Even small alterations from haul road design can mean an increase in cycle times and fuel burn – not to mention falling outside of proper safety guidelines. The time, legwork and safety risk associated with monitoring and fixing those issues add up. With drone imagery, you no longer need to leave the office to troubleshoot any of it because the 3D survey allows you to check road widths or grades in one click. Again, teams can compare road grades and the like against design and standard safety requirements.”

Full Steam Ahead

While robotics and sorting technology continue to advance, in 5280’s opinion the bigger, more impactful strides are about to take place in linking independent parts of the recycle system – materials, sorting, transportation, accounting, job site, and contractor efficiencies and municipal reporting – together into a single workable ecosystem.

“We see two opportunities for recycling. We see the system-wide view as a transformation – you can’t optimize a system until you connect to the endpoints, understand and manage it from end to end in a ‘smart’ way,” Ladas said. “And we see new materials reprocessing technologies coming along to begin to make more end markets available for products harvested from the C&D recycle stream.”

Steiger stressed that the need for data will continue to drive the industry; the trend in tender proposals for refuse collection will feature requests for data around diversion, asset management, real-time equipment tracking. “Haulers will be looking for hardware and software solutions that validate their business model, reduce operating costs and enhance share value,” Steiger said.

Future technology advancements to watch for will focus on three key areas: autonomous vehicles, auto-sorting bin technology and route economics. “Follow the development of self-driving freight vehicles for hauling trash between collection facilities and trash trucks,” Rodoni suggests. “Follow the development of auto-sorting bins – it’s only a matter of time before it scales to larger containers. And from a fleet data perspective, waste operators should be focusing on using data for improving route economics and enhancing fleet safety.”

According to Rodoni, in 2019 the increased adoption of artificial intelligence and deep learning techniques paired with IoT and edge computing platforms will usher in a new level of understandings and capabilities in the waste and recycling industry.

“These technological advancements will help identify the material as it is collected,” Rodoni said. “And it will optimally deliver it to the best possible end destination while at the same time enabling on-demand collection for consumers and waste generators.”