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Tech-Driven Solutions: Transforming Waste Management for a Sustainable Future
By Harrison Woods
In a world where waste is becoming abundant, it may seem like there is no way out of this mess (pun intended.) However, technology might offer a way for us to clean up our act (okay, I'll stop.)
Technology aids waste management in various ways — from seamlessly integrated solutions that become an inherent part of our lives to solutions that require active engagement. Take Bigbelly, a company that pioneered the smart waste bin, for example. If you have ever lived in or visited a major city, there is a good chance that you’ve come across a smart waste bin. While smart waste bins take your trash — and that’s probably all you’ve noticed — they also perform other tasks designed to sustainably consume your waste. For one, once you put your waste into a smart waste bin, the trash cannot fall back out like a traditional waste bin — which often leads to unintentional littering. Furthermore, these waste bins compact the materials inside, allowing more time for use until they reach capacity. Bigbelly takes waste management further with its Collection, Logistics, Efficiency, and Notification (CLEAN) system. Essentially, its smart bin tracks the waste collected, allowing those in charge of operating it to know when these bins are full and ready for replacement.
While Bigbelly leverages tech for more sustainable waste disposal, other companies focus on using waste disposal data to make decisions about product manufacturing. TeknTrash, a startup based in London, uses data gained from disposed products to track factors such as how long consumers use products, geographical information on sales, and consumption patterns (purchased monthly, yearly, etc.). This data then drives sustainable decisions about production and marketing. While many companies target sustainable waste management after a product is used, TeknTrash uses consumer insights to make informed decisions at the beginning of the product life cycle instead of at the end. By having a deeper understanding of their product's life cycle, companies can make better decisions from the beginning, empowering them to not only reduce the environmental impact of their products but also optimize their manufacturing processes, target audience, and marketing strategies. These insights enable companies to improve profitability while reducing their environmental footprint.
Even more traditional companies, such as the Fortune 300 company Waste Management (WM), have been making more sustainable business decisions to adjust how their company operates. Key initiatives for WM include creating renewable energy from waste, modernizing landfills for post-landfill use, increasing awareness of recycling, and modernizing equipment such as collection vehicles and sorting processes. By using biomethane gas from landfills and recycling organics, WM creates a circular system of sustainable waste by using collected waste to power its fleet, turning waste into energy.
While technology can significantly improve waste management, it's crucial for individuals and communities to actively engage with these technologies and adopt more sustainable methods. I’m sure we’ve all seen Wall-E, the movie where humans temporarily leave Earth while robots consolidate waste so the planet can become habitable again. As seen in the film, that plan didn’t go too well. Although tech can help with waste management, humans still have a huge role in creating a healthier, more sustainable environment and way of life.
To inform users on how to act more sustainably, companies can use strategic advertisements and informational product labels to improve consumer education. While Bigbelly can decrease waste entering our ecosystem and TeknTrash can gain insightful data to improve product development, it is ultimately up to consumers to use these products for them to make a difference. Similarly, for WM to decrease its energy pollution, consumers have to dispose of their waste properly and actively engage in recycling.
In conclusion, as we navigate a world where waste is increasingly prevalent, technology indeed holds the potential to revolutionize waste management and contribute to a more sustainable future. However, it's imperative to remember that the responsible use of these technological solutions and active participation from individuals are essential for achieving meaningful change in waste reduction.