Director’s blog: Future of waste management
In the first of a series of blogs, Whitespace’s Dave Patrick discusses why future technological developments in the waste and recycling sector must be driven by its ability to solve real world problems.
In recent years, we have seen a significant increase in local authorities’ use of technology to support the delivery of their waste collection and other environmental services, although surprisingly some 20% of councils have not yet adopted waste management IT. Whilst the rate of development is proportionally high compared to other much larger sectors, there are a number of limiting factors which serve to constrain development: not least, the fact that the municipal waste collection market is relatively small with only 400 or so potential customers.
This market is further fragmented by location, with authorities facing different challenges as a result of their urban or rural environment. One authority may find traffic an issue, making routing a priority. Another might struggle with a reliable mobile signal, which constrains the use of mobile services and requires a solution that continues to work offline. Some challenges are of our own making and the simplification of collection systems including greater standardisation of bin types, would certainly help accelerate the uptake of technology and probably be appreciated by residents as well.
It is also fair to say that waste and recycling constitutes a very small part of any authority’s overall IT budget. The fact that they are investing public money rightly brings a heightened level of scrutiny and risk adversity where wastage must be avoided at all cost. As a result, any investment needs to directly address the myriad of physical and environmental challenges presented by waste collection and bring about efficiency which directly translates into a financial saving. The idea of innovation for innovation’s sake is simply not an option.
As developers, these challenges make innovating new technologies for the sector even more fascinating and interesting challenges are something embraced by everyone at Whitespace.
To ensure our development delivers tangible financial benefits, we undertake a significant amount of research working closely with our local authority customers and contractors. We also get valuable insights from our team on the ground and interactive events, such as our recent webinar with letsrecycle.com.
This work has resulted in us identifying a number of exciting opportunities, many of which will be discussed in future blogs. One area of real opportunity from my perspective, is the development of wearable technology such as smart watches. The possibilities for this include use by street cleansing crews to help gather data such as street bin waste levels . This can then be used to add meaningful intelligence to service schedules. They could also ping operations teams a notification when a full waste bag is dropped from a trolley, making routing more efficient, reducing unnecessary journeys and saving on fuel and emissions.
They could also be used by operatives emptying bins on a round. Currently, the collection crews report issues to the driver who enters the information into the in-cab solution. This isn’t a particularity efficient process. The adoption of wearable technology or technology accessible from the outside of a vehicle would allow operatives to report issues first hand.
As with all innovation, the adoption of these technologies come with some challenges of their own. The user needs to be able to operate it in PPE and in all weathers, for example. The use of GPS means battery life is another really limiting factor and many waste trucks are already loaded with various systems, each carrying their own 3g/4g communications devices. These problems are not insurmountable however. The resulting solutions have the potential to realise meaningful improvements in efficiency and service levels for both in-house operators and contractors seeking to realise a competitive edge.
Moving forward, we will continue to develop solutions that help fix real world problems and provide a demonstrable cash return for our customers. We always welcome suggestions from those working in the sector to help guide future development.