Thinking back to the 1980s or early '90s, the year 2020 seemed out of reach. People predicted flying cars and space living as the new norm. While the world isn’t there just yet, advances have been made toward artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, mobility and other “new age” technologies.
As the reality of it being the year 2020 sets in, waste and recycling industry experts offer their insight into what’s really on the horizon for technology in this space.
Anne Germain, vice president of technical and regulatory affairs for the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) based in Arlington, Va., explains demographics will play a role in the increased need for automation.
She notes that there will be a continued struggle to find drivers because of the smaller labor pool entering the workforce. Germain also thinks the public demand for accountability will increase, resulting in stricter reporting, and documentation of sustainable practices will be required. She adds that recycling commodity prices continue to be stressed and that there is a greater focus on increased recycled content for packaging and expanded reuse options.
David Biderman, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) based in Silver Spring, Md., says he expects four major technological advances this year.
“First, some MRFs [materials recovery facilities] have added robotics and AI in their facilities, and I expect more widespread introduction of these technologies in more recycling centers in the coming year,” he says.
“Recycling programs suffer when recyclable material such as cans end up in residue or the wrong bale,” he says.
Safety is another area where technology will be beneficial in 2020, according to Biderman.
“Some fleet owners are interested in adding advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to their trucks, and I hope that manufacturers will work with haulers and local governments on adding ADAS as an option on new vehicles,” he says. “Finally, I have been hearing more about the testing of operating heavy equipment (compactors, dozers) at landfills remotely, and I expect that someone will start a formal pilot program in the coming year.”
Stephen Simmons, president at Gershman, Brickner & Bratton, Inc. (GBB) based in McLean, Va., sees growth for alternative conversion technologies in 2020.
“I anticipate an increased interest in alternative conversion technologies will continue to grow at a moderate pace, with an emphasis in chemical recycling of mixed plastics,” he says.
Corinne Rico, project manager for GBB, does not think anything drastic will impact the industry this year.
“I predict moderate growth in the industry’s evolution to sustainably manage waste, largely due to public pressure related to global climate change and pollution issues,” she says. “I don’t think anything drastic is going to change in one year’s time; rather, we can expect growth in awareness and smaller shifts by those more progressive local governments and private companies that will gradually shift the larger market over a longer period of time.”