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The Waste and Recycling Industry and the Internet of Things

Internet-enabled cans, carts, trucks and other pieces of equipment could lead to increased efficiency and lowered costs for the sector.

The trend of putting a wider variety of devices online—the so-called Internet of Things—continues to spread. Increasingly, household devices are now internet enabled, allowing users to control them remotely or get alerts if something is amiss. Devices increasingly collect new streams of data that can be analyzed to change behaviors or purchasing decisions. The waste and recycling industry is also being affected, with trucks, containers of all sizes and other pieces of equipment increasingly becoming part of this Internet of Things.

According to Navigant Research, the global smart waste collection technology market is expected to grow from $57.6 million in 2016 to more than $223.6 million in 2025.

Within the waste and recycling industry, a few key categories have emerged where objects connected to the internet are affecting operations and efficiencies. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology on carts helps track those assets in the field and can be used by haulers to confirm that addresses have been serviced.

Sensors that detect fill levels of all types of containers are a second category. These hardy devices let haulers know how full carts or cans are so that pickups can be optimized. The aggregation of data on how fast certain carts fill can also be used to predict future pickup schedules and make routes more efficient.

Garbage trucks themselves are increasingly wired. Dispatchers can track trucks in the field. Advanced telematics systems can let maintenance shops know about issues as they occur (or even before they become bigger problems), allowing for more predictive maintenance and less downtime.

Lastly, when it comes to organics, small digesters installed in commercial operations often include sensors that can analyze what’s being passed into them. Crunching the numbers can inform generators how to reduce how much food they waste.

The Use of RFID

RFID technology systems are being integrated into waste haulers’ and municipalities’ customer relationship management (CRM) and billing system to improve customer service and billing accuracy.

RFID technology uses electromagnetic fields to identify and track tags attached to objects. The tags contain electronically stored information.

Many cart manufacturers, for example, use RFID technology on assets to confirm delivery and track assets in the field.

  • Rehrig Pacific Co. developed the Container Asset Recovery Tracking System (CARTS). The proprietary system enables a series of services. It allows users to conduct residential surveys to gather feedback on services, determine interest in new programs or select a container size. It allows tracking of container shipments and managing inventory levels at distribution centers. Container deliveries are recorded in real time by using handheld scanners in conjunction with CARTS. It can generate daily distribution reports that include household address, container serial number, RFID tag number, type, size, date and time of delivery.
  • Cascade Cart Solutions’ (CCS) offering includes the Xtreme Tag RFID tag and the CartLogic asset management software. CCS’ CartLogic allows management of cart services and location information using RFID technology, GPS systems and cloud computing. Each time a delivery, swap, repair or removal is made the cart’s RFID tag is scanned (or a serial number is entered) and the cart's location and type of service provided is recorded, generating a service history log for each cart, whether in the field or at the yard. This information synchronizes with CartLogic's cloud-managed platform, storing all cart inventory data online.
  • Otto also offers a variety of container management solutions. It can confirm delivery for carts. Then, real-time service verification allows orders to be updated and closed—all while in the field using handheld devices.
  • SSI Schaefer’s waste technology division, meanwhile, developed WISTAR Technology, which includes RFID tags on carts and proprietary software with a variety of capabilities. The company’s RFID-enabled waste carts provide real-time managed assembly and distribution, GPS location, revenue audits, online reports and inventory management.
  • Toter has its ToterTrax system that includes the embedding of an RFID tag into the handle of each Toter cart during the manufacturing process. As each cart is delivered to a specific address, the crew scans the cart’s RFID tag with the ToterTrax mobile app portion of the system to register that it’s been delivered. The ToterTrax app then retrieves the RFID data, serial number, geo coordinates of location (where the cart was scanned) and time stamp (when cart was scanned) and sends this data through a Bluetooth connection to the ToterTrax web portal. This allows real-time monitoring of cart delivery and rollout.

RFID codes on carts are also used by haulers to confirm when pickups have been performed.

In typical industry applications, inexpensive RFID tags are affixed to residential carts and commercial containers, while waste and/or recycling trucks are equipped with RFID readers. When a cart or container is serviced, the RFID reader recognizes and records the RFID tag. The RFID tag and the geo-coordinates for the location of the service are then sent back to a central database.

Additionally, RFID is used to measure set-out rates by customers, and knowledge of how many carts are serviced by each truck helps improve operational efficiency by balancing the workload per truck.

Lakeshore Recycling Systems (LRS) in Morton Grove, Ill., for example, uses UHF RFID-tagged waste and recycling carts that transmit information—including the resident’s address, name and date—to a reader located on the arm that lifts the carts for service. The cart’s chip also distinguishes whether it’s waste or recycling. When each route is closed out at the end of the day, the information is collected, disseminated and processed by LRS’ software for the sake of billing.

Building Better Trucks

When it comes to the trucks themselves, the ultimate technology would be self-driving trucks. While Volvo announced an initiative with Renova to test an autonomous refuse truck in May, widespread adoption of this kind of technology is still years away.

But there are ways today’s trucks are already wired.

Performance information, such as fuel mileage, idle time and PTO operation, have been recorded for quite some time, but now with wireless/mobile technology that information is gathered and analyzed in real time.

Trucks can communicate performance, diagnostics, location and other information in real time. If there are issues that arise, maintenance shops can be notified while the truck is still on the road.

They can determine quickly if it’s something that needs to be serviced right away or if it can wait until the end of the route. And since the problem is identified in advance, they can prepare to make any fixes before the truck is back in the shop, reducing downtime.

Wired trucks also work seamlessly with fleet maintenance software offerings.

The latest software solutions provide asset monitoring, truck maintenance, billing and invoicing, which can lead to improved safety, productivity and profitability for waste and recycling companies.

Michelin has now even started adding RFID tags to its tires. RFID tags allow fleets to better track their tire assets and better understand the lifecycle of their tire casings.

How Full is That Can?

One of the biggest areas of innovation is the development of devices that can measure the fullness levels of various types of carts and cans. In some cases, these are devices that can be placed into a cart, can or other receptacle and measure how full it is and notify haulers when the container needs to be serviced. In other cases, the technology is built right into the can itself.

Finnish company Enevo has developed a wireless sensor that can be affixed to a full range of refuse containers carrying all types of garbage. It is designed to tolerate harsh weather and grueling conditions, track fill levels and monitor 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.

San Francisco-based Compology has developed rugged sensors for the insides of roll-off and front-load containers to track fullness, GPS location and motion information. The sensors feed real-time data to Compology's web-based software dashboard, where haulers can make timely, data-driven decisions to improve operations and customer service. Compology has a partnership with Wastequip, which allows customers to get new roll-off containers delivered directly from the factory with the technology preinstalled. 

OnePlus Systems is another provider in the space. In fact, it’s been building fullness monitors since 1991. It produces OnePlus Compactor Fullness Monitors as well as the OnePlus Metro Series for smaller containers. In June 2016, OnePlus acquired Dublin, Ireland-based SmartBin, which extended its capabilities to smaller waste receptacles like bins, dumpsters and liquid containers.

This year, the company launched the WasteForce platform, a cloud‐based software platform that provides customizable insights into compactor and container fullness, usage and pickup frequency.

Internationally, other providers include Cognito Tech Solutions with its G-Bin system and IOTSENS with its Smart Urban Waste Management system.

GreenQ is another company that measures waste in bins, only its technology is installed on trucks instead of in bins. It provides haulers with measuring, computing and monitoring sensors designed for garbage trucks.

The tracking device enables monitoring of waste collection to a single bin level. With every lift of a waste bin, the system on the truck measures the amount of waste inside the bin and monitors the time and location of the pickup. The data is analyzed and sent through the cloud, directly to the end user's mobile device along with notifications for any unusual event and recommendations for optimization of the collection process.

Analyzing the data after a few weeks, haulers will be able to predict when each bin will be full and when is the right time to execute every route out of its route pool.

At the municipal level, Bigbelly has been around for nearly 15 years now with its solar-powered, internet-connected, self-compacting trash bins. It has 1,500 customers in 50 countries.

In 2016, the company’s bins collected 112,119,235 gallons of waste and 17,440,225 gallons of recycling and compost.

Recently, a new competitor has emerged: ECube Labs Co. The company was founded in 2015.

Available as both a web-based and smart device solution, Ecube’s Clean City Networks (CCN) provides a collection of historical data and analytics reports, and enables operators to monitor their assets in real-time. At the core of Ecube’s CCN are the CleanCUBE and CleanCAP. The CleanCUBE is a solar-powered waste compacting bin, and the CleanCAP is an ultrasonic sensor that measures fill-level information in real-time.

There are also now smart trashcans becoming available for households.

Bin-e is a device that can recognize, categorize and sort waste. Its functioning is based on a combination of mechanical, electronic elements and software with elements of artificial intelligence.

Meanwhile, Simplehuman has a new model that is voice-activated to open and close. Another version includes WiFi with the ability to track stock of garbage bags. A paired app can automatically order more through Amazon's Dash Replacement service.

Understanding Food Waste

Several companies have emerged that produce wired digesters that can be installed in both commercial and industrial kitchens. The digesters process food waste onsite, diverting it from landfill. While, there are a host of companies that produce onsite digester and composting solutions, only a handful include a data analytics component.

Yet, these tools perform a second function. Equipped with sensors that collect data about what’s being processed, use of the digesters over time generates data on what kind of food is being thrown away. Ultimately, that information can inform generators’ supply chain decisions and reduce the volume of food that’s being tossed.

BioHiTech Global Inc., a Chestnut Ridge, N.Y.-based green technology company, is one firm with a comprehensive offering in this field.

Earlier this year, it launched BioHiTech Cirrus 2.2, the second generation of its mobile app.

Cirrus 2.2 includes new features that deliver improved information accessibility and transparency into food waste creation, allowing users to identify inefficiencies and improve operating margins in real time. Additionally, the app has updated analytics functions that break down waste details by department.

In addition to the new app, the company has created BioHiTech Alto, what the company says is the first intelligent “chatbot” in the waste industry. BioHiTech Alto is an interactive industrial communication technology that allows users to communicate with industrial equipment in real time.

All of that functionality is what goes behind its Eco-Safe Digester that converts food waste to wastewater onsite.

Another provider in this space is San Jose, Calif.-based Power Knot LLC. Power Knot offers eight models that process from 20 lbs. to 4,000 lbs. of food waste per day.

The units collect data regarding the amount of waste ingested and digested by the minute, hour, day, week, month and year. It includes operational parameters and statistics about the operation of the units. All data and alerts are sent in real time.

Data can be accessed on touch screens on the units. It also can be viewed online in conventional web browsers.

LeanPath is a third provider of a smart solution, although in its case it doesn’t have a digester component.

The company has an automated and patented food waste metering system to enable real-time, daily monitoring of food waste. Its system includes scales, cameras and touchscreen terminals. A bench scale with cameras allows photos photo of every item. This scale measures pre-consumer food waste.

Another scale sits underneath a bin and registers the difference every time something is thrown in the bin, which is good for measuring post-consumer waste. In addition to those, it has a large floor scale that works for measuring both pre- and post-consumer food waste and organics. It also produces a tablet-based approach that is primarily used for pre-consumer waste.

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