24-25 Jul 2024

The future of waste management is smart

The waste and recycling industry has been one of the last to hold out against the wave of tech disruption that has transformed other sectors with substantial debate over the role of technology in meeting sustainable development goals.  But the dam has now broken, and long-established waste management players are scrambling to keep up with a new generation of start-ups and innovators who are using automation and smart technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning to transform the industry.

What is a Smart Waste City?

An Intelligent Waste Series by Solar Bins has defined it beautifully: “A Smart Cities mandate is to start with the perspective of the users of the city or customers of the city – the residents, rate payers, students, workers, visitors, business owners – by saying, ‘what can smart cities do to improve the livability, prosperity and sustainability of our city for them?’” A Smart Waste City asks, not only how can we make it easier to dispose of waste, but what is the best was to collect it monitor it and process it. They ask, how can that waste be transferred to exactly the right company at exactly the right time, to process it, in the most sustainable, closed loop way, rather than sending to land fill. They ask, how can count waste in real time. 24/7.

The role of IOT in waste collection and recovery

Waste generation is a concern for modern societies due to both the service cost of waste collection, and the environmental issues of landfills. As we experience new emerging infrastructure and capabilities offered by the Internet of Things (IoT) , there have been many promising solutions arising in Australia for handling waste collection and recovery operations.

Smart bins

Australian companies are world leaders in the development of IoT waste management technologies such as smart bins, which can report how full they are, and fill-level sensors that can be fitted to existing ‘dumb’ bins.

Councils across the country, from Palmerston in the Northern Territory down to Sandy Bay in Tasmania, are currently trialling or rolling out locally made smart bins. The data they provide can be combined with information on truck fleets to optimise route planning for collection, slashing vehicle movements and related costs, and at the same time automating billing and invoicing.

Big Belly Smart Bins by Solar Bins

Clean City Network

The Clean City Network produced by Melbourne’s Smart City Solutions generates an intelligent set of data by processing various types of information received from smart bins. By accessing the information regarding bin’s fill level, compaction history, collection performance and more, users can track bins in real-time by logging on to CCN waste optimisation platform


Yindi Smart Systems

Another pioneering Australian business in the field is Sydney-based Yindi Smart Systems. At the 2018 AWRE Expo, Yindi unveiled a world-first machine learning robot, Yindi BLUE. Powered by the sun and artificial intelligence, it can autonomously clear waterways of plastic pollution.

However Yindi’s main product is a solar-powered smart bin that can be produced for around the same price as a ‘dumb’ bin. Designed to be economical to deploy, operate and maintain, it communicates usage and fill levels via Wi-Fi or mobile phone network, allowing optimised collection planning.

High-use Yindi bins can also be fitted with a compactor that gives them up to six times normal capacity. To see it in action, watch their explainer video here. https://vimeo.com/user56379926.

US expansion

Yindi is now setting up a factory in Brooklyn, New York where it will manufacture smart bins commencing in 2019. “We are taking this Australian technology and exporting it to the US,’’ says Yindi co-founder Jonathan Nguyen.  “The City of New York alone has 23000 bins, so there is massive potential over there.’’

Gold rush

Nguyen describes the waste industry’s recent awakening to the potential of smart technologies as “a gold rush’’.“Everybody is jumping on the bandwagon,’’ says Nguyen. “There’s a lot of real Innovation happening, and there is huge untapped potential.  “For example, people would be horrified if they realised how much recycling material goes to landfill because it is contaminated with general waste and not economical to sort.

“A couple of robotic arms with some sensors and high-speed computers that can recognise trash and pull it out of the stream before it reaches the MRF will completely change the economics of recycling.’’

Learning on the job

Nguyen’s vision is already taking shape. Max.AI is an is an artificially intelligent waste sorter that identifies recyclables and other items for recovery. It uses neural networks and a vision system to see and identify objects similarly to the way a person does, and it learns from each mistake it makes. It can process waste far faster than any human, while simultaneously also performing other tasks such as removing residue from PET bottles.

The first Max was deployed last year in Sun Valley, California, and his parents are justifiably proud.  “Max is more than just a robotic sorter,’’ says Thomas Brooks, director of technology development at Max’s manufacturers, DHS.

“Max-AI technology will soon become the active brain of all our MRFs, controlling various robotic, optical and other sorting equipment, providing real-time material composition analysis, and making autonomous decisions.’’ 

See the Max-Ai in action. 

Other innovations

Smart e-waste recycling bins are currently being trialled in Australia, but a US company has gone one step further. ecoATM has almost 3000 kiosks across the US that can automatically identify thousands of different models of old electronic devices and offer instant payment for them. They have helped divert more than 14 million smartphones and tablets from landfills.

Australia’s Sage Automation’s award-winning bulk redemption terminal was developed for the national new container redemption scheme. It automatically sorts and counts containers in any condition, and then produces a refund receipt for the customer.

Polish company Bin-E is developing a smart waste bin that uses a camera, sensors and artificial intelligence to automatically recognise, sort and compresses waste into plastics, paper or glass before they are collected.

As Yindi Smart Systems’ Nguyen says: “We have only scratched the surface in terms of how smart technologies will change the waste industry.’’

If you’d like to see or hear more about innovations in waste technology, come along to AWRE 2019 on October 30-31st where you can experience these technologies in person. 

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