plastic pollution

Act now to beat plastic pollution

Data about plastic pollution is daunting: more than 430 million tons of plastic are produced every year worldwide, half of which is designed to be used only once. Of that, less than 10% is recycled, according to UN figures, and an estimated 19-23 million tons end up in lakes, rivers, and seas annually – approximately the weight of 2,200 Eiffel Towers.

But plastic pollution can be reduced by a staggering 80% by 2040 if we act now to reuse, recycle, and pivot away from plastics, says a new report from the UN Environment Programme. And that’s why the World Environment Day chose #BeatPlasticPollution as the motto of its 2023 edition.

“We must work as one – governments, companies, and consumers alike – to break our addiction to plastics, champion zero waste, and build a truly circular economy,” stated UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “Together, let us shape a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable future for all.”

The problem of plastic pollution is particularly acute in urban areas: 75% of the total plastic waste generation comes from municipal solid waste streams, as high population densities and concentrated economic activity generate relevant amounts of consumption and waste.

In Europe, the EU Commission is reviewing the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation to set more ambitions targets for reducing and recycling packaging, and requiring certain levels of recyclability and recycled materials in new packaging. Cities applaud these revised rules, and are working to locally promote compostable and biodegradable items whenever possible, implement deposit and return schemes, teach people how to correctly separate household waste and increase reuse and recycling.

City-led programs are being launched in many countries around the world. In Kenya, the city of Mombasa joined WWF’s Plastic Smart Cities Initiative and committed to solve the plastic pollution problem with practical actions and educational activities. The town of Kamikatsu, set on the island of Shikoku, was the first municipality in Japan to make a “Zero Waste” declaration and is successfully managing to reuse or recycle everything it produces, with a specific focus on plastic objects and packaging. Last week, the city of York, Pennsylvania, announced its goal of becoming America's first plastic waste-free city: sites will be available for anyone to dispose plastic waste in an environmentally safe way and all plastic trash will be diverted into a global reuse program.


Is your city seeking innovative technologies to better manage municipal solid waste and tackle the problem of plastic pollution? Deep dive into our Smart Waste solution!

zero waste cities

How to improve garbage collection in zero waste cities

The effort to reduce waste and increase recycling dates back to the late 1990s, when keywords such as ‘circular economy’ were yet to come. As climate change mitigation became a priority for national and local governments, the early 2000s saw a growing hype towards ‘zero waste’, an idea that the Zero Waste International Alliance officially defined as “the conservation of all resources (…) without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health”.

The ambitious goal was picked up by cities in the 2010s, given the improvement of solid waste management and recycling was acknowledged as one of the most effective ways to cut carbon footprint at local level. Policies and actual measures to achieve the zero-waste target (in most cases, it is set as a 90% diversion rate or higher) vary a lot, with many communities pausing or hindering their efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Europe, Barcelona has recently committed to becoming a zero waste city by increasing separate waste collection rate to 67% by 2027 (the European average is about 48%) and reducing garbage generation per capita to 427 kg per year by 2027. The German Munich is walking a similar path, with local waste management company AWM acting to cut waste from households per capita to 310 kg per year by 2035 and reduce municipal garbage in landfills and waste incineration to a feasible minimum.

In the US, even cities with a stagnant recycling performance such as Chicago are hurrying up. Organics recycling was the initial focus of educational events and programs (composting systems were offered to community gardens to give residents an option for dropping off food scraps and use finished compost), but the city is also rethinking collection services to make them more efficient and effective.

Solid urban collection is indeed a pain point for many cities, which struggle to assess the best possible frequency and routes to ensure an adequate quality of service (bins to be emptied when and where needed) with cost and operational efficiency.

Here is where Smart Waste solutions can help. IoT-based technologies allow trash bins to be remotely connected and monitored, with data showing the fill level and the date and time of the latest collection, and generating alerts in case of fire, vandalism, or unauthorised bin movements.

By analysing bin-generated data, and correlating it through an intelligent routing software, waste operators can predict when containers will need emptying and dispatch trucks when really needed, or when the city prefers. This improves the quality of collection, generates efficiency and savings, and adds relevant benefits in terms of health, safety, and liveability – even in cities heading towards zero waste.


Want to learn more about our Smart Urban Network and how we help cities and utilities enhance solid waste management? Contact our Smart Waste experts!

Recycling on-the-go

Recycling on-the-go lacks infrastructure

Recycling rates for municipal waste, packaging waste, electrical and electronic equipment are slowly increasing in most Western countries, indicating some progress towards using more waste as a resource and achieving a circular economy. However, while people are committed to separate waste at home, there is a lot to do to improve recycling on-the-go.

A survey performed in 14 European countries by the LUCID polling agency with Every Can Counts revealed that most respondents (93%) would like to see more recycling bins on the streets, in public spaces, parks, beaches, or on trails. That number inches up to 94% when people were asked about large events such as festivals or sporting events.

The lack of adequate infrastructure comes out as a chief obstacle to higher recycling on-the-go rates. 83% of respondents said they always or often put their drinks packaging in the recycling bin when at home, but that number plummets to 54% in the workplace, and only 49% do so when out and about, while 48% recycle in outdoor locations like parks and beaches.

“Most respondents are ready to do more when it comes to sorting and recycling the drink cans they consume out of home, but proper recycling and collection solutions are often too scarce,” explained Every Can Counts Europe Director, David Van Heuverswyn.

On-the-go waste is carefully monitored in the UK, where about eight billion drinks containers fail to get recycled every year and are either landfilled, incinerated, or littered. A few weeks ago, Telford and Wrekin municipalities in Shropshire joined #InTheLoop, the UK’s biggest collaborative approach to boost recycling on-the-go.

First trialed in Leeds in 2018, it was piloted in Swansea and Edinburgh in 2019. Across the three projects, over 1 million plastic and glass bottles and cans were collected and recycled. In Telford and Wrekin, 25 new waste bins will be positioned strategically across the town park to encourage visitors to recycle on-the-go, providing specific guidance for correct separation.

Telford and Wrekin Council will be monitoring the impact and effectiveness of the new bins. If successful, the plan is to extend the rollout across the borough, starting with Oakengates and Newport with others to follow, making it easier for residents to recycle on-the-go in other district parks and high streets.

Does your city have recycling bins on the streets and in public spaces? Any experience or best practice of recycling on-the-go that you want to share? Contact our Smart Waste experts for further insights and ideas!

hotel waste

The Summer challenge of hotel waste management

When the Summer season is in its peak, the increased number of people in tourism areas can make waste management operations definitely challenging. Some studies proved a tourist may generate up to twice as much waste as a local resident: in highly popular towns and locations, this can negatively impact the existing waste collection system, resulting in higher operational costs for a lower quality of service, and a backlash in terms of sustainability and environmental commitment.

Hotels generate large amounts of mixed solid waste, as it is more difficult for guests to correctly separate their trash – also because many hosts lack in adequate instructions and bins. Back in 2018, a team of researchers from Rostock University, Germany, investigated hotel waste generation in Tunisia, specifically in Hammamet and Gammarth, and discovered that 83% of accommodation facilities collected mixed waste, which was sent to landfills. About 58% of hotel waste was organic, while at least 36% was made of recyclable materials that could have been valorised if proper sorting had been performed onsite to separate glass, metal, plastic, and paper.

In Tunisia, solid waste management is mainly the responsibility of municipalities. During the Summer season, most cities struggle to keep the pace with the increased quantity of trash to be treated, so many of them delegate hostel waste collection to private operators, achieving a superior quality of service at lower costs.

The above-mentioned study compared taxes paid by hotels for general services, including trash management, to waste collection costs. Despite private operators are more convenient than public organizations, results clearly marked that hotel taxes do not cover the municipalities’ waste-related expenses.

Some interesting lessons can be learnt from this case. Reducing waste generation and promoting circular economy models is a multi-faceted matter, that requires a clear strategy, an efficient infrastructure, and a widespread educational effort.

Waste management should not merely be considered an expenditure item, but an opportunity to improve quality of life and tourism attractiveness by making cities cleaner, healthier, and safer. Some municipalities are starting this change by investing in educational programs and initiatives, but also putting pressure on hotels, businesses, and households by charging fees on residual waste collected. This should encourage a more accurate trash separation and recycling.

Smart technologies can help: our Smart Waste solution allows cities and operators managers to enhance solid waste collection by monitoring bin filling and optimizing waste trucks itineraries, taking data-driven decisions about resource allocation and dispatching. Moreover, thanks to Machine Learning techniques, we are evolving our system from a raw data collection platform to an actionable prediction solution, providing an estimate of the date when the bin will reach its capacity limit.


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