What Can We Do About Waste Sorting?
"What kind of trash is this?" Every day, and sometimes several times a day, Shanghai residents ask themselves this question as they hold their trash poised over a rubbish bin. Since Shanghai Domestic Waste Management Regulations took effect on July 1, 2019, Shanghai became the first megacity in China to implement compulsory waste sorting.
Residents must now allocate precious ‘head space’ to contemplating the nature of their trash, since urban waste disposal requires careful planning. It has been estimated that every resident of Shanghai City generates over 1 kg of waste per day, which means that the entire city generates over 26,000 tons of waste a day. If this waste did not undergo compaction and crushing, it would pile up and form a 421m tower of trash every 15 days. What’s more, Shanghai is not a particularly exceptional case. The ‘garbage siege’ crisis is a common issue throughout China and elsewhere in the world.
Human nature being what it is, we tend not to persevere with something when it is a hassle. Conversely, we are more likely to adopt and adhere to a practice when it is easy. Fortunately, making complicated things simple is a long-term solution that is enabled by technology.
With the aim of easing the pain and facilitating the process of waste sorting, intensive research and development is focused on smart rubbish bins. In the waste disposal process, from disposal, collection and transport to treatment, rubbish bins connect users on one end with waste treatment facilities on the other. Hence there are high hopes riding on rubbish bins to make waste disposal easier and waste treatment more effective.
It is not hard to imagine the ideal smart rubbish bin.
- Smart Waste Sorting: People would no longer have to bother with waste sorting before disposal, since the smart rubbish bin could accurately sort the waste.
- Identification: The identities of ‘trash throwers’ could be detected and reported and the culprits penalized for their misdemeanors. This could involve the integration of barcode scanning or more advanced biometric technologies.
- Capacity Sensor: This would simultaneously and accurately sense the amount of garbage inside a rubbish bin and trigger the appropriate action when the load approaches maximum capacity.
- Tracking and Positioning: This would provide geographical location information, much like GPS, and enable full traceability of rubbish bins, thus optimizing waste collection and transportation efficiency.
- Data Transmission: The data generated and collected by rubbish bins would be uploaded to the cloud through smooth transmission channels.
- Insight analysis: Data would be processed and analyzed in the cloud, leading to logical dispatch decisions that would improve the efficiency of waste disposal.
Figure 1. Avnet's Smart Rubbish Bin Solution
In recent years, Avnet has been quietly focused on developing smart rubbish bin technology. Already, the Smart Rubbish Bin Solution developed by Avnet has many of the functions described above. Laser radar or ultrasound sensors are used to sense the volume of content inside the rubbish bin with a high degree of accuracy. Data can be uploaded to the cloud via NB-IoT or WiFi. The route of the waste collection can be logically planned, based on the capacity and geographical location of rubbish bins through expert insights gained from cloud data. All waste disposal-related information can be accessed by users and garbage collectors through a smartphone app.
Figure 2. Cloud Management of Avnet's Smart Rubbish Bin Solution
This solution allows for the integration of other functions according to real-life requirements, so that commercially viable products can be swiftly developed and brought to market.
Not surprisingly, the function of smart rubbish bins that promises the most practical benefit for residents, the “smart sorting” function, is the hardest to develop and implement. Types of domestic waste are many and varied. People are creatures of habit and take time to learn and adapt, so finding patterns and “teaching” the rubbish bin how to correctly identify types of waste will take even more time. That said, in line with the advancement of artificial intelligence technologies, the number of experts working in this field will only increase. Though it may be hard to implement smart sorting across all scenarios, in certain situations, such as offices, smart sorting is not only possible but already happening.
If all goes according to plan in China, investments in domestic waste sorting and disposal facilities will be increased in 46 key cities in 2019; basic waste sorting and disposal systems will be implemented in these cities by 2020; and the construction of waste sorting and disposal systems in prefectural-level cities will be completed by 2025.
The smart rubbish bin is a classic policy-sensitive product. If the market did not “blow up” in the past, it was simply because people were unaware of the urgency of waste management. As R&D efforts ramp up and waste sorting strategies roll out, smart rubbish bins will soon become a reality.