Data and technology company Smarter Sorting developed an automated tool to help local governments and retailers determine what to do with their waste—from whether to move it on for reuse, to knowing how to dispose of it, or how to ship it.
The application supports end users with compliance in managing potentially problematic regulated waste. And it helps ensure highest and best use for salvageable materials. Once it has accomplished these goals, the technology provides documentation for reporting or tracking, among functions.
“Data is key to knowing how to handle materials. Our machine learning technology creates itemized data to advice on categorization of materials to help make appropriate decisions,” says Scott Mackey, vice president of sustainability for Smarter Sorting.
Hardware components include a scanner connected to a touch screen and scale. Retailers have the added feature of a dashboard—a data portal where information is stored and used to generate reports, including, for instance, disposal costs for a particular product or real-time data on waste accumulation.
Workers at household hazardous waste facilities (HHW) scan a barcode, as most materials come to the sites in their original packaging. A waste management or reuse option appears on the screen. After staff select a recommendation, they receive further instructions, such as which shipping totes to select.
At the same time, data is captured on how it was categorized and/or managed to assist with compliance reporting and to understand what’s in the waste stream.
The retail app mainly helps to reduce regulated waste and to ensure compliance when dealing with damaged or unsold items that are classified as regulated waste. Store associates who will need to make judgement calls may scan items for guidance on what bin to put an item in, helping to manage regulated items more efficiently and cost effectively, says Mackey.
For both retailers and waste operations, rules are created around specific materials. For instance, for a HHW facility, it may be to segregate acids and bases. Once materials are scanned, the rules are applied to give appropriate instruction on managing them.
“Retailers are avoiding fines with problematic wastes. Municipalities are assisted in figuring out where to send materials for further processing or destruction,” says Chris Ripley, CEO of Smarter Sorting.
As the system picks up more information, it learns to better apply regulations.
“This technology enables us to know, for instance, if something’s flammable and how it needs to be handled in one jurisdiction versus another. So, you can match product information to the regulatory rules to know how to manage it,” says Mackey.
Salt Lake County in Utah was one of the first entities to pilot Smarter Sorting’s technology, which is now leveraged by about 20 municipalities and a few retailers in North America.
“Reuse is important to us, so we look for community partners that can take large quantities of materials like aerosols, pesticides and stains,” says Eric Michaels, Salt Lake County Health Department household hazardous waste program manager.
He estimates that with the technology, in about a year and half, 47,000 pounds have been categorized and identified for reuse that would have otherwise been incinerated.
“We’ve been able to track pounds to the dot and what products are coming through the program,” explains Michaels. “In the future, we anticipate we will be able to tell our community partners we generate ‘X’ amount of spray adhesive; can you use it?”
The app can determine not only if items may have other uses but identify highest and best use. For example, it can ascertain whether food is eligible for donation for human consumption or whether it’s fit for animal feed, compost or anaerobic digestion.
Smarter Sorting collects materials from entities that use its system. Those materials go on to end users such as Habitat for Humanity’s Austin, Texas, thrift shop.
“It has helped us provide items to customers at a discount. And through diversion, we save taxpayers’ money and help save the environment,” says William Stockton, vice president of retail operations at the Austin Habitat for Humanity Restore.
“We are a green organization. We have 100 solar panels on top of our building, and we recycle whatever items are not resalable. Smarter Sorting is another green star on our wall to show we are doing what we can to be good stewards for the environment and, at the same, time support our mission [building affordable housing for low-income people],” adds Stockton.