More private haulers and municipalities are turning to technology tailored just for their industry as one means to persevere. Automated tools are replacing manual bin audits. Artificial-intelligence (AI)-powered bots are “talking” to and servicing customers. Smart sensors do jobs from telling drivers when containers are full to letting dispatch know how those drivers are doing on the road. Then there is technology to integrate all of these applications and many others.

Arlene Karidis, Freelance writer

March 13, 2024

5 Min Read
Ievgen Chepil / Alamy Stock Vector

The trash business is a tough arena, especially in the collections space.

Labor shortages; severe weather/safety concerns; rising fuel costs; expanding and changing communities; and tightening, evolving regulations challenge front line workers and back-office teams week in, week out.

More private haulers and municipalities are turning to technology tailored just for their industry as one means to persevere. Automated tools are replacing manual bin audits. Artificial-intelligence (AI)-powered bots are “talking” to and servicing customers. Smart sensors do jobs from telling drivers when containers are full to letting dispatch know how those drivers are doing on the road. Then there is technology to integrate all of these applications and many others.

Ecorithms’ software automates “oops” tag programs. Branded as WasteAID, the technology connects to trucks’ on-board cameras and generates labels for individual collections when materials are placed in the wrong stream. The system creates an audit, combined with a targeted oops tag postcard, that’s sent to waste generators, informing them of what did not belong in the bin.

The program not only cuts down on time spent doing manual bin lift inspections but can help inform educational consumer messaging. Websites and social media have served this function for years, but the AI-assisted technology, which tracks the history of audited generators, aiming to gauge behavior change, has the add-on function of providing insight.

“I think [media and websites] are important, but they lack the data on how effective certain efforts are. This means costly research and campaigns for haulers or cities interested in creating educational initiatives,” says Faisal Binateeq, co-founder and CEO Ecorithms.

He anticipates more to come in the way of AI to onboard residents in the ongoing trek to reduce contamination.

“I see advancements in voice assistants that will provide quicker feedback to residents, teaching them what goes where, based on their specific program,” Binateeq says.

As Waste Connections acquires more companies, and more customers, call volumes have escalated—increasing 4.5 percent in 2021 over 2020, and 2.5 percent in 2022 over 2021. To better manage the influx, the company integrated AI-powered chatbots on its websites and voicebots on telecom systems, which provide 24/7/365 customer service availability.

These robotic apps analyze submitted website forms and chat conversations and then prepare requests for the customer service teams to process or provide automated answers. 

The automated tools have improved efficiency and lightened staffs’ workload, while affording customers more flexibility, says Eric Hansen, senior vice president, chief information officer, Waste Connections.

“Customers can utilize the bots or speak with live agents when they call in or visit the websites. Different options are provided for existing versus new customers. And the bots triage customer requests by collecting pertinent information and presenting it to the teams to process without further assistance,” he says.

Like in other industries, generative AI, which understands and analyzes information and can take actions based on its learnings, is gaining traction in the world of waste, especially to support reporting and compliance. 

Ecorithms has an application specifically designed to assist California jurisdictions and haulers in understanding and explaining California’s SB1383, the state’s regulations around organics waste diversion.  You simply ask questions for an automated response.

“We started by using the tool for ourselves when we were researching the topic to build features for specific-use cases.

We decided afterwards to release it for anyone in California who wants to have a quick way to get the needed information,” Binateeq says.

But apps like this are just the beginning for generative AI, project waste tech geeks. R&D is underway and, at the same time, new products are rolling out, sold as tools to help the waste industry make informed decisions by processing data, generating reports, and predicting outcomes.

Smart trucks are becoming more popular. They are outfitted with in-cab technology, sensors, and cameras that integrate into back-office systems to automate tasks such as creating more efficient routes, creating more reliable service verifications, and allowing end customers to schedule pick-ups online. 

Integration of these and other applications is where the power lies, say the companies who develop and sell these systems.

Brent Glover, chief technology officer, Routeware, advises prospective buyers would be well-served to take time to really understand the degree of integration between solutions in a given vendor’s suite—in-cab technology, routing and dispatch solutions, ticket management and billing, and customer self-service capabilities, among others.

Even with on-board computers and other bells and whistles to support drivers, dispatchers need to see where the drivers are going and whether they are on track, requiring an integrated dispatch system to connect to each truck in real-time.  Still with these tools in place, surprises arise on the road, whether missed pick-ups, trucks breaking down, accidents, etc.; and ticketing/work order management systems help track and address those issues.

“While these and other technologies can be procured as standalone components, the full value unlock truly is achieved through an integrated eco-system working together seamlessly,” Glover says.

Many of the tools the industry uses today have been proven previously in other industries. This means that the waste industry is now on the receiving end of mature and proven technologies, albeit with some adaptation for the complexity and nuance of the space.

Glover points to route optimization to determine the most cost- and time-efficient routes as an example.

“It’s a significantly more complex math problem for the waste industry than for, say, parcel delivery or rideshare services, as a lot more variables need to be considered.  But the premise is similar,” he says.

The cameras on trucks are another example, used to snap a picture of a customer’s waste bin and location to validate that it was picked up – similar to what Amazon does when the driver leaves a package by the door, except the truck is taking the photo as the stop is confirmed.

As these innovations have evolved, more keep coming, and specifically designed for waste operations. Their developers believe they’ve got their work cut out for them; there’s plenty more to do.

Emerging technologies, like advancements in AI, smart sensors, and 5G connectivity will help solve many of the current bottlenecks in hauling operations, leading to better behavior change and cleaner streams and, ultimately, more efficient and profitable operations, they project.

About the Author(s)

Arlene Karidis

Freelance writer, Waste360

Arlene Karidis has 30 years’ cumulative experience reporting on health and environmental topics for B2B and consumer publications of a global, national and/or regional reach, including Waste360, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun and lifestyle and parenting magazines. In between her assignments, Arlene does yoga, Pilates, takes long walks, and works her body in other ways that won’t bang up her somewhat challenged knees; drinks wine;  hangs with her family and other good friends and on really slow weekends, entertains herself watching her cat get happy on catnip and play with new toys.

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