What is the future of urban waste management?

What will waste management look like in 2025? Here are our top ten predictions for the future of urban recycling.

1) Route optimisation
What night does your bin go on the street? In the future, it might not matter, as dynamic route optimisation will mean that your driver will now be automatically routed to exactly where the waste is. How will you know whether your garbo is coming? Check if your bin is full! And pay when it is.

2) Pay As You Throw
Not only will collection companies know whether your bin or skip is full – they will also know how much it weighs and increasingly – what you put in it. This Pay As You Throw (PAYT) model, including weight based charging, will create a greater incentive for generators to seek diversion to recovery.

3) The end of consumer landfill streams?
First came dry recycling, which reduced the kerbside landfill bin from 240L to 120L. Then came organics recovery, which reduced its collection to fortnightly. Next, with wet and dry loads diverted directly to a recovery facility, will consumer facing landfill streams become a thing of the past? Welcome to universal recycling, where all bins are recycling bins, and landfill contracts only exist between landfill operators and Material Recovery Facilities (MRF) or composters.

4) City to Soil
While professionally managed landfill will be essential infrastructure of the future, putrescible landfill may become a technology of the past. Carbon taxes, increasing community sensitivity and the growing value of organics will drive them into composting. Or for contaminated streams – fuel manufacture.

5) Waste to Fuel
Globally, generation of electricity and heat from a waste source has been adopted for decades. However, the desire to substitute fossil fuels in boilers means that MRFs are increasingly adopting fuel manufacture loops. This technology is particularly suited to high calorific, carbon-neutral fuels like tyres and contaminated organics. These fuels will supply diverse energy markets.

6) Infrastructure convergence
Fuel manufacturers using facilities like cement kilns is part of a broader trend – the convergence between water, energy and recycling infrastructure. This trend will continue, with organics being treated in sewage treatment plants via co-digestion. Meanwhile, manufacturing sites and MRFs will continue to converge into industrial ecology parks, which will manufacture fuels for collection trucks.

7) Alternative fuels
Kerbside and skip collection vehicles, like buses, are ‘back to base’ vehicle fleets. This makes them perfect candidates for alternative fuels. Three alternatives battle in this space – biodiesel (typically B20), gas fuelled trucks and electric trucks. All three will win in different markets and applications. Meanwhile, these trucks will become increasingly automated.

8) Robot recovery
Perhaps that six pack you left on the bin will become a battery pack? Robots are rapidly busting into the resource recovery industry – on the kerb and in the MRF. While there will be some job losses from this, experts largely think this will reduce the cost of recovery and increase safety for workers – particularly on picking lines. However, some streams may go directly back to their manufacturers.

9) Recyclers go postal
No, it’s not a scene from ‘American Psycho’. Instead, commercial operators like REDcycle and TerraCycle have proven that consumers are willing to mail back materials for recycling – even for tiny items like cigarette butts. In particular, expect e-waste recycling to go postal. This will be important as kerbside bins get less common.

10) High rise recycling
With housing prices and demand for inner city living spiking – collection from high density dwellings will increase and kerbside MGB pickups will decrease. This will mean accessing larger bins in smaller spaces (like underground car parks), and increased use of technologies like garbage shoots, onsite compactors and even vacuum collection systems!