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smart waste
in cities: Build
a cleaner future

Author: Phil Muncaster

Smart city budgets have taken a bit of a pounding during the pandemic. But at the same time, the potential benefits of using Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are arguably even clearer today than in the pre-pandemic era. Municipal IT directors have many priorities to juggle as local governments attempt to build a more resilient, sustainable future. But IoT-based smart waste management in cities should be right near the top.

Public mobile edge computing (MEC) infrastructure could give smart cities the edge in the race to lower costs, cut emissions and create economic prosperity for their local area.

The challenges of urban waste management

Across the globe, cities are generating ever-greater volumes of waste. According to the World Bank, cities produced just over two billion tons of solid waste in 2016. Yet, thanks to population growth and rapid urbanization, this is likely to increase by 70%, reaching 3.4 billion tons in 2050. This has major implications for urban centers in the US and abroad.

The main challenge is that most countries still rely on traditional waste management processes. In practice, this could mean that:

  • Waste is not segregated at source.
  • Residents aren't told how to dispose of different types of waste correctly.
  • Collection times and routes are fixed, whether dumpsters and trash cans are full or not.
    Most waste, even recyclable materials, is deposited in landfills.

This in turn has serious environmental and cost implications for cities and their residents. Municipalities are wasting money forcing collectors to physically visit and check the level of every dumpster. Unnecessary trips may also increase carbon emissions from collection trucks, which can impact air quality and the health of the local community.

More systemic challenges for the smart waste management IoT sector include:

  • A lack of funding: Although IoT-based smart waste management in cities can be a driver of major environmental, economic and cost benefits, it's also difficult to secure a budget for an ostensibly unglamorous area.
  • Staff turnover: Although waste management can support long and fulfilling careers, this doesn't marry with the perception many job-seekers have, making it difficult to attract and retain the right type of skills.

Optimizing solutions for IoT-based smart waste management in cities

This is what IoT solutions were made for. By placing connected sensors into trash cans and dumpsters and hooking them up to a MEC-based analytics system, you can monitor waste levels and other metrics in near-real time. This visibility could enable:

  • A reduction in waste collection costs. Trash cans and dumpsters don't have to be emptied unless they reach certain levels. This enables city planners to optimize collection routes, saving fuel, time and money.
  • Greater efficiency. By running AI and machine learning algorithms on collected data sets, you can better plan and allocate waste management resources.
  • A more responsive service. With real-time, IoT-based smart waste management solutions, there should be no more overflowing waste bins, as ad hoc collections can be dispatched as needed. This can help to improve environmental health.
  • Reduced carbon emissions. Optimized routes mean reduced fuel consumption from collection vehicles. Smart waste management IoT initiatives can also support segregation of waste at source, improving recycling efforts and reducing the environmental impact of urban centers.

These measures amount not just to lower costs and improved efficiencies but a cleaner, more hospitable place to live for local residents. This in turn can spark a virtuous cycle of attracting more inflows of talent and creating greater economic opportunity for your city.

How public MEC can drive improvements in smart waste management

IoT-based smart waste management in cities consists of multiple disparate IT elements. Aside from the endpoint sensors placed into trash cans—to monitor for motion, light, vibration, fullness, temperature and other metrics—other sensors such as dash cameras could be placed on collection trucks to monitor location and other conditions. These may be used to improve driver safety, reduce fuel costs, enhance fleet management and flag scheduled vehicle maintenance.

This is where public MEC comes into its own. It embeds cloud computing resources and storage into the network edge for any organization to use—providing low latency which is perfect for municipal IoT-based waste management. Sensors on board vehicles and in smart trash cans and dumpsters connect to the network edge, where raw sensor data is processed and turned into actionable information.

How IoT managed services can help

Building and deploying IoT-based smart waste management in cities can be a complex, time-consuming and resource-intensive process. Many municipal IT departments will not have the resources or in-house skills to support such a project internally. This is where IoT managed services can come in handy, helping to kick-start your organization's smart waste management IoT initiative without the need for large upfront capital expenditure.

Verizon offers managed services that feature four service levels designed for any type of customer undertaking an IoT project:

  1. Level 1: A dedicated point of contact to assist with cellular connectivity.
  2. Level 2: Adds life cycle support for customer accounts and IoT solution implementations.
  3. Level 3: Adds dedicated support for IoT platforms owned by customers.
  4. Level 4: Adds bespoke deployment services including: site survey, field installations, private network engineering, device kitting and staging and solution development

Learn more about how Verizon can help improve IoT-based smart waste management in cities.