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Takeaways from Day Three of WasteExpo 2016

Based on the number of exhibitors at WasteExpo, the new products on display and the conversations about investment and innovation, the solid waste business is sitting on strong footing.

Day three of WasteExpo 2016 featured the second full day of the exhibit hall, more education sessions and plenty of networking. Here are some highlights.

1. Nearly across the board, attendees and speakers at WasteExpo have talked about steadily improving volume and pricing. And there’s a clear focus within the industry to streamline operations and increase efficiencies.

There remain challenges—for example, the cost of recycling remains a prominent theme. Yet the tenor of the conversations on the topic has changed.

Reworking contracts to share costs and benefits equitably among all stakeholders is an ongoing process. But the important part is that it’s a process that’s active. It’s not something that’s just being talked about. It’s being actively addressed.

2. There is a clear cycle of technological innovation, investment and rationalization that’s unfolding in the waste and recycling space. A number of firms have developed or updated sensors for carts, cans, roll-off containers and just about every other type of waste container.

Companies like OnePlus (which recently acquired SmartBin to complement its existing offerings), Compology, Enevo and others have current and next gen technology on display at WasteExpo.

The technologies and approaches differ. But the general trend is that there are an increasing number of options for having sensing devices that can be placed in waste containers to help communicate to haulers and generators how full the bins are.

Having this data can create clear efficiencies.

“The capital intensive variable in the business is hauling,” OnePlus CEO Klaus Voss says. Servicing the volume of waste and the number of carts in the field more efficiently is a big opportunity for savings.

It can eliminate trips picking up carts that aren’t full. The information over time can help haulers tweak collection schedules and provide insight on fluctuations in waste generation over time. With enough data, you can create predictive models to help optimize collections.

“Retail clients, for example, want to know their waste generated per square foot,” says Voss. Having information on what’s diverted and sent to landfills on that basis lets them know where they can make improvements on how different locations in their portfolio compare.

Compology’s sensor, meanwhile, in addition to giving volume readings, includes a camera. So this can give haulers a sense of what it is that needs to be picked up in addition to knowing the fill level of the cart.

“The idea is to allow haulers to be able to proactive call customers” when they see and know a cart is full, says Compology CEO Jason Gates.

The firm’s next endeavor is adding digital dispatch capabilities to help optimize roll dispatch and routing.

3. Technology is also enhancing how haulers and municipalities can track carts themselves that are in the field.

Toter unveiled ToterTrax at Waste Expo. The system includes RFID tags that can be scanned with a Bluetooth sensor tied to a tablet. The RFID tags are tied to serial numbers. And other information (like whether the cart has been dropped off or rejected by customers) can be captured in real-time and is accessible via a web portal.

4. During the Trends in International Waste & Recycling education session, Ruth Abbe of Abbe and Associates and Zero Waste USA and Michelle Leonard and Leslie Lukacs of SCS Engineers spoke about the latest international zero waste initiatives, recycling markets and technologies.

Abbe spoke about the circular economy and its three key principles:

  1. Preserve and enhance natural capital by controlling finite stocks and balancing renewable resource flows.
  2. Optimize resource yields by circulating products, components and materials in use at the highest utility at all times in both technical and biological cycles.
  3. Foster system effectiveness by revealing and designing out negative externalities.

“In the Cradle to Cradle concept, you are keeping your biological nutrients separate from technical nutrients, says Abbe. “You should keep streams separate for maximum value and return to the circular economy.”

“In Milan, Italy, 100 percent of apartment buildings are included in its Apartment Organics program,” says Abbe.

Leonard talked about the waste and recycling trends in the U.S. On the upstream side of things, the U.S. is focusing on extending producer responsibility, packaging legislation and behavior change marketing. “We need to support re-design strategies to reduce the volume of toxicity of discarded products and materials,” says Leonard. “We also need to promote low-impact or reduced consumption lifestyles.”

On the downstream side, the U.S. is honing in on four things:

  1. Ensuring the highest and best use of products and packaging at the end of their useful lives.
  2. Reusing products and packaging and retaining their original form and function.
  3. Recycling materials that are not able to be reduced or reused.
  4. Composting materials that are not recycled. 

“We need to make sure that we get the youth involved because they have the innovations and they are the future of this industry,” says Leonard.

Lukacs discussed her international travel and waste and recycling findings.

“Europe is really our leader when it comes to zero waste,” says Lukacs. “And Europe also has very expensive landfills fees compared to many other regions of the world.”

“The one thing I see in all my travels around the world is the issue of plastics in the oceans,” says Lukacs.

“We have so much to learn from Italy, and more than half of the cities in Italy have a zero waste goal,” says Lukacs.

5. Eric Herbert of Zero Waste Energy LLC and Chris Voell of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency discussed zero waste strategies and best practices during their education session. 

Herbert covered five zero waste strategies:

  1. We need more available recovery.
  2. We need to embrace new markets and technology.
  3. To maximize value from the waste stream, we need to access the entire waste stream.
  4. Single stream and mixed materials processing can work side-by-side to maximize recovery.
  5. Organic materials are a large percentage of MSW. We can fuel trucks and generate power 24/7, 365 days a year, and make disable end products.

Voell spoke about new zero waste technologies and other current trends.

“The electricity markets in many areas of this country have bottomed out for many obvious reasons,” says Voell.

“Biogas is flexible and it can be used as an alternative fuel source versus electricity,” says Voell.

“RNG promotes sustainability and helps ensure waste isn't wasted,” says Voell.

“EGE is projected to triple in volume by 2018,” says Voell.

“Forty projects in the U.S. produce ultra-low carbon RNG for transportation fuel use and that number is on track to double by 2018,” says Voell.

6. Mitch Cowart, marketing consultant, customer safety services division for Caterpillar, Inc. and Garry Mosier, vice president of operations for AWTI spoke about new and smart safety technologies.

Cowart covered the dangers of fatigue and some technologies that will help members of the industry reduce this risk.

“The greatest asset to your organization is people,” says Cowart. “You pay for the body, but you get the mind for free.”

“We follow a Zero Incident Performance Process: engage, assess, build, develop, implement and check,” says Cowart.

“Reduced Situation Awareness is one of the main symptoms of fatigue,” says Cowart.

Caterpillar has also rolled out a fitness tracker similar to the Fitbit. It includes modes for sleep, calories burned, goals, distance, steps and alarms.

Mosier spoke about various types of cameras that can be placed in trucks to reduce risks. “We are all risk managers and if you can reduce a blind spot on a truck, you can reduce the risk of an accident,” says Moiser. “Third eye cameras [are] the insurance policy for industry drivers,” says Moiser.

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