How IBMs Smarter Cities Initiative Takes on Waste Management

How IBMs Smarter Cities Initiative Takes on Waste Management

Managing waste in both large and small cities can be a challenge. Technology giant IBM has created a world-wide initiative called Smarter Cities designed to help cities and companies leverage data to ultimately improve operational performance in many sectors, including waste management.

As circular economy objectives have come to the forefront of the contemporary waste management agenda, there is an increasing emphasis on looking at the waste stream is a resource. There’s a push to divert materials from landfill and back into the production instead.

Clients are leveraging emerging Internet of Things technology from IBM to infuse their waste management operations with intelligence in order to reduce costs and drive improvements across value chains.

Many companies and businesses also use Smarter Cities to gain better engagement with citizens. The Netherlands, for example, has utilized plastic recycling to create a cost-effective and eco-friendly pet pavilion that also serves as a public space.

A group of art students in Peru even created a fun and interactive recycling bin in a Metro station for passengers to recycle their subway tickets.

Waste360 recently spoke with David Post, executive manager for Global Smarter Cities and enterprise Smarter Cities leader, to discuss the initiative and its waste management strategies.

Waste360: Can you provide a brief overview about what Smarter Cities is, how it started and why it began?

David Post: Smarter Cities­­ is a set of tools and approaches that any organization can use to drive performance improvements­­. Smarter Cities began in 2008, as we observed that the volume of data was increasing exponentially. Many cities and organizations didn't really have a framework to drive actual insights from that data so we began to put together a program that leveraged IBM's services, capabilities and software to help cities do things like improve the quality of water systems, reduce traffic congestion and better manage social programs.

As the program evolved, we became increasingly interested in both waste and waste management in cities because we think that it's another critical service that cities, corporations and waste industry companies are really struggling with, especially when it comes to improving business from both a cost standpoint and a sustainability standpoint. 

In my perspective, the waste management industry has been a late adopter when it comes to adopting IT solutions like this. Smarter Cities represents a real way for clients to do a better job of driving down costs, providing value added services and achieving circular economy objectives. For example, if you're a private sector hauler, a data-driven approach helps you more effectively compete because you will have insights that your competitors won't.

Waste360: In the waste management sector, what type of data and tools are you providing?

David Post: Waste management is different because there are some entities that focus on collection, some that focus on processing and others that focus on reuse. Using our intelligent waste management offering, we have attempted to try and digitize the waste-wide chain. This means that on a single technological platform, companies and cities can do things like route optimization. If you're running a recycling program, you can see which areas of the city that aren’t doing as well as the others and provide targeted marketing messages based on collection statistics you might have. If you are a facilities manager or the director of municipal operations for a city, you can run competitions between different buildings in relation to things like recycling. If you're a MRF operator, we can put instrumentation in place that will allow you to track waste stream in real-time as its being processed.

We also have many innovative ideas that I don’t think are currently being used. For example, we can put instrumentation in place that would allow processors to monitor the consumption of different products geographically through the use of GPS tracking on trucks and QR codes on specific products. The processor could then sell the geographically specific sales data back to consumer product companies, thereby creating a new revenue source.

We also want to help track where reclaimed commodities are going. In a recycling plant, for example, we can track how much of it is staying local and how close we are getting to achieving circular economy objectives.

Waste360: How do those involved in Smarter Cities access the information/data?

David Post: We provide an informational platform. If a regional waste hauler wanted to optimize collections, improve recycling rates and provide customers with granular information about their waste to gain more accounts, we could help them integrate previously dispersed data tests to understand how to improve operational performance.

Many clients also want to integrate back office data, such as capital planning and staffing, with waste volumes that they are collecting. They not only want to optimize collection routes, but they also want to optimize capital investments and staffing decisions, according to how those routes look over time.

Waste360: Besides low oil prices, what do you feel is the biggest challenge in waste management right now?

David Post: Beyond oil prices, it comes down to driving performance improvements. By and large, the waste industry is the same as it's always been: You pick up your waste, you dispose of it somewhere and you reuse some of it.

In terms of driving operational performance, there's a really good opportunity to apply technology. Other industries, such as healthcare and financial services, are well on their way, but organizations that do collections and processing need a data-driven approach to help mitigate many of the challenges that are going on right now, especially with the questions surrounding whether the recycling market is financially viable.

On the business model side, cities are struggling with how to maintain recycling programs that have rapidly increasing cost structures. In response to this dynamic, many cities are going out to bid for either one-bin approaches or integrated manufacturing complexes opposed to a landfill or a MRF where the commodities get shipped out. While traditional recyclers make a differentiation between commodities that have a market value and those that don’t, the reality is that virtually everything in the waste stream can be repurposed into value-added products if accurately sorted. Cities are increasingly partnering with the private sector to contain costs by supporting business models that are not dependent on the risks associated with the commodities market. In doing so, they are reducing collection and processing costs while generating jobs and local economic development.

Waste360: What can we expect to see from Smarter Cities in 2016?

David Post: We have an offering based upon the same technologies that we use for our water management platform in the Netherlands. We are taking the analytical insights and data processing capabilities that we have developed for other industries and applying them to the specific challenges associated with the waste sector. There's a lot of interest in this, and people have been contacting us to find out more about this offering. We are feeling very encouraged by the demand that’s out there, and the offering we are rolling out this year will help companies and cities begin to strategically manage their waste. 

To learn more about smart waste, check out the 2014 Global Market Analysis and Forecasts Analyst Report by Navigant Research

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