Finnish Firm Wants All Trash Receptacles to be Smart

Finnish Firm Wants All Trash Receptacles to be Smart

A Finnish technology startup is intent on convincing decision-makers in the U.S. solid waste industry that its smart software can save money, slice carbon dioxide emissions—and even prevent stress-induced gray hair.

Enevo has packaged those promises in a rugged, one-pound, yellow sensor that resembles a bloated hockey puck.

The wireless sensor, which can be affixed to a full range of refuse containers carrying all types of garbage, is designed to tolerate harsh weather and grueling conditions. It tracks fill levels and also monitors temperatures and movement to detect fire or vandalism. Pertinent information is transmitted to haulers via sonar technology so drivers can be more efficient, responsive and timely with pickups. It’s mainly geared for the commercial and industrial sector.

“We’re not just tech folks trying to jam a solution upon the waste industry,” says Geoff Aardsma, Enevo’s Boston-based regional sales manager. “People need to trust that the sensor is going to be able to deliver. That’s why we’ve hired people with waste industry experience.”

Aardsma was one of several representatives touting Enevo’s inventiveness in mid-September during an event called Smart Cities Week in downtown Washington, D.C.

He joined Enevo after a decade at Waste Management. The European company, which branched into the U.S. market 18 months ago, is in the midst of expanding its state-side staff from 10 to 13 employees.

Enevo—short for environmental evolution—launched in Finland five years ago and now counts 140-plus customers in 35 countries. One U.S. client is the DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID) in Washington that covers 138 city blocks roughly between the White House and the U.S. Capitol. The area has been designated as an eco-district in collaboration with Smart Cities.

As part of a pilot program, the BID installed six Enevo sensors on dumpsters in large commercial office buildings in May, says Scott Pomeroy, the organization’s sustainability manager. The BID is in the midst of measuring waste streams and compiling accurate baselines so managers can make economical decisions about landfilling, recycling and composting.

About 200 more sensors will be added to the eco-district this month.

“Our goal is to make life easier for commercial property managers,” says Pomeroy, who first met with Enevo representatives in January. “Without the sensors, volumes and weights are so variable that we don’t have accurate measurements of what is coming or going unless we were to figure it out by hand on a daily basis. That would take thousands of man hours.”

Another bonus of sensor data is that building managers can achieve valuable green-building certification points by submitting accurate calculations on diversion rates.

Though commercial buildings are the target now, Pomeroy says, restaurants might be candidates for sensor technology that could streamline pickup of grease containers and overflowing trash bins. As well, the BID might consider attaching sensors to the trash and recycling containers on public sidewalks.

Gathering data for several months allows the eco-district to look for patterns and determine how to maximize information the sensors offer, he says. By knowing what’s in the wastestream, it will be easier to figure out how those materials are separated and where they should go. For instance, organics could be composted or used to generate energy at the regional wastewater treatment plant.

“It’s going to be a whole palette of options,” Pomeroy says, adding that addressing hauler routes is a possibility. “We just don’t know yet. Using technology, we are able make the analysis of this much more cost-effective and easier to understand.”

The potential for the sensors is enormous in a city such as Washington, where commercial haulers attend to 75 percent of the trash and recycling. The city’s Department of Public Works picks up the rest.

David Biderman, chief executive of the Silver Spring, Md.-based Solid Waste Association of North America, says the industry welcomes smart software. But the hardware must withstand heat, cold and lots of banging around.

“Companies need to demonstrate that their technology will withstand rough operating conditions,” Biderman says. “This industry is not easy on its equipment.”

Charbel Aoun, Enevo’s London-based chief sales and strategy officer, says the durable sensor is designed to take a beating—and continue transmitting data to a digital dashboard. Then, he points out, garbage haulers can optimize fleet efficiency by adjusting their daily rounds instead of sticking to static routes.

“These sensors are like eyes in the field,” Aoun says, adding that they can pare fuel bills, save labor costs and reduce customer complaints. “We’re on a mission to put one on every trashcan in the world.”

This technology is not a toy, he says, emphasizing that Enevo put top value on creating a product that the industry requested instead of allowing its engineers to go wild.

“We’ve realized the value of listening to our customers,” Aoun says. “They’re keeping us on our toes.” 

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