How the IoT Can Reduce Waste
Updated: May 22
The hype that comes with the Internet of Things means that more people are seeing its diverse uses, and these include ecological applications. In particular, the Pew Research Center Internet Project indicates that the IoT will improve the efficiency of waste reduction. With environmental concerns becoming more apparent today, many are looking to the tech as a timely response to said issue. So how exactly can the IoT reduce waste? The key to understanding this is to consider waste in terms of its larger, societal context. We used to define waste as a by-product and inevitable component of industrialization. But in a world that has become dependent on production and consumption, waste has also become a consequence of our habits. In fact, 40% of food in the US is wasted. Everything that has lost its value is waste – from a rotting banana to an outdated smartphone. The truth is that we have yet to come up with a waste management solution that puts this reality into the equation. This is where the IoT comes in. The IoT allows people to organize daily activities in a way that reduces excess. For example, wasting energy often happens because of human neglect. But with computers ensuring that no resource is wasted (e.g. smart thermostats), our carbon footprint can also be reduced. When applied to a society-wide level, the effects may be tremendous. IoT-based waste reduction starts with waste management, as the tech can let you monitor the type of waste you usually make. Oakland-based startup Mintscraps developed a system of sensors that can analyze and categorize the kinds of food that are usually left untouched. The collected data can be entered into the cloud, which is used to find solutions on what to do with waste. This concept is crucial not just for food, but also in handling special materials, like electronic waste, which was previously discussed here on Living Green Technology. In San Francisco, tech startup Recology has come up with an advanced sorting and recycling system that can handle a variety of materials. These IoT-based efforts are important contributions toward a systemic, long-term solution for waste reduction. Waste collection is another field that already benefits from IoT developments. The traditional method is to send trucks to specific areas to pick up trash, but IoT-reliant technology like advanced mapping is now used to manage truck fleets better. On their Truck Tracking page, Verizon Connect lists the benefits of advanced mapping, specifically features such as real-time traffic update and zooming to street level. It helps in improving efficiency by making the process of collecting and transporting waste faster. In addition, there are developments in terms of actual waste monitoring. GovTech revealed that smart sidewalk bins will soon be installed in cities such as Boston, New York, and Pasadena, California. The bins are fitted with sensors that send fill level data to waste collection centers. Similarly, eco-tech startup Compology is working on a system that not only monitors dumpster capacity, but also keeps historical usage information for eventual Big Data analysis. All of these IoT-reliant solutions are opening up possibilities for better waste management and reduction. Many people are even saying that waste collection may become a big industry as multiple startups seek government support for their initiatives. This market is actually expected to grow from $57.6 million in 2016 to over $220 million by 2025. As more cities push towards building smart cities, we can only expect more IoT innovations for waste reduction.