Internet of things technologies promise a transformative impact on a wide range of industries, and the recycling and waste management sectors won't be left out. Widespread access to connected sensors, monitoring devices and similar solutions can empower organizations to gather more information from real-world environments and develop new operational strategies that drive efficiency and position organizations to enact more sustainable, cost-effective practices. However, transitioning to a smart recycling or waste management operation relies on strategic IT investments that lay the groundwork for far-reaching progress.
How IoT is disrupting recycling and waste management
Consider typical operating procedures in recycling and waste management. Organizations track consumption patterns in their service areas based on historical patterns, identify their availability to collect materials and schedule their operations accordingly. This general practice follows across the industry, from municipal waste management teams to specialized companies that focus on commercial and industrial markets. Smart recycling and waste management could turn this model on its head, giving organizations real-time visibility into the status of collection receptacles so they can avoid unnecessary pickups and optimize operations. IoT solutions are making this possible.
According to a Waste360 report, IoT projects are already taking shape in the form of waste and recycling containers that use radio-frequency identification technology to allow haulers to track assets in the field. This ensures that garbage and recycling bins don't go missing. The news source also highlighted sensors that alert teams to how full containers are, and even vehicles that connect to the internet to access and transmit telematics data are becoming popular.
When combined, these types of technologies add a critical layer of intelligence to operations, giving organizations real-time data updates that allow them to become more responsive to the needs of their customers and less reliant on projections and similar estimates.
Operational gains aren't the only advantage of IoT-enabled recycling and waste management solutions. The ability to embed connected technologies into receptacles is also allowing for the use of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cameras to eliminate some long-standing problems in the recycling industry. Smithsonian reported that emerging recycling bins using computer vision can process the type of material placed in the container and automatically sort it. This simultaneously eliminates human error and makes it much easier for downstream recycling centers to process goods.
Connected technologies hold a great deal of potential for the recycling and waste management sectors, but organizations must also weigh the costs of adopting such a program.
Considering costs, benefits of smart recycling and waste management
Deploying an IoT-based recycling and waste management strategy can come with significant upfront costs, including:
- New vehicles or significant equipment to enable telematics in vehicles.
- Replacement bins and containers across the service area.
- Software and mobile apps to support end-user operations.
- Wireless network access points, RFID scanners or similar solutions to provide connectivity in key locations.
- Customer-facing applications and services that allow them to interact with systems when appropriate.
The costs can add up quickly when rolling out new solutions, and many organizations will take a piecemeal approach to IoT projects, deploying specific solutions when operational pain points and budget availability happen to align. However, waste management ecosystems that employ fully intelligent recycling present opportunities for large investments to pay off. Smart technologies allow organizations to:
- Optimize the workforce by ensuring employees are working on the best tasks possible at a given time.
- Eliminate unnecessary trash and recycling collection.
- Improve routing for vehicles.
- Respond to unexpected needs with less disruption.
- Develop a stronger awareness of community needs to better align day-to-day strategies with operational realities.
The recycling industry is changing, and environmental services firms can use strategic funding to keep up. As the Leading Bank for Business1, Comerica Bank is committed to connecting clients with the best loan options for their needs, helping them drive growth while minimizing risk.
1Comerica ranks first nationally among the top 25 U.S. financial holding companies, based on commercial and industrial loans outstanding as a percentage of assets, as of June 30, 2018. Data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.
This information is provided for general awareness purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as legal or compliance advice for your business.