The challenge of waste management

The Covid-19 crisis has put the resilience of our Cities to the test, including essential services such as waste collection and management.

Pre-pandemic data stated that in Europe each person produces nearly half a ton of municipal waste per year, which means that every week more than 20 kg of municipal waste is generated per household. If we consider the present massive use of masks, gloves and other disposable items, it’s not difficult to imagine that much more waste is being generated nowadays.

Preliminary reports from the US show that, while commercial waste decreased about 16% in the last months, residential waste increased up to 25% in most Cities.

This posed serious challenges for the proper treatment of waste: preventing distortions in waste management, including efficient collection and recycling, is crucial for public health and safety, as well as for the environment. Waste operators are working hard to prevent or reduce disruptions due to shortage of staff, ensure enhanced health and safety at work, grant safe handling of medical waste and household waste produced by infected citizens. There are also some business issues, since waste operators are facing rising operational costs that cannot simply be unloaded on end users.

Smart technologies can highly contribute to support Covid-19 response. Innovative applications based on Internet of Things sensor networks have been tested in China to enable the intelligent management of solid waste and medical waste.

Beyond the pandemic, the implementation of smart IoT solutions can enhance Cities resilience by improving the quality and efficiency of waste management and other urban services. In order to have a valuable return, while investing for future development, Cities should prefer interoperable and standard-based technologies – this means designing and implementing multi-application networks to host and manage any kind of smart object without vendor lock-in or technological constraints.

That’s exactly the idea behind our PE Smart Urban Network. Look at the experience of the City of San Leandro: they kicked-off our solution as the centralized management and control system of about 4,800 LED streetlights, then the same architecture prepared the City to support multiple smart applications and services, such as integrated parking systems, public wireless internet service, traffic video surveillance, and more.

Our open data model also allowed an innovative collaboration with Harvey Mudd College. High school students developed a Smart Waste pilot project leveraging our Software Development Kit to layer waste sensors into our PE Smart CMS management system. A good example of interoperability and open standards as the foundation of open innovation and community stakeholder engagement, heading to the future and not focusing on emergency response only.

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