Illustration: © IoT For All
Globally, the industrial sector produces more than 7.6 billion tons of waste every year. Because industrial waste disposal is often complicated and dangerous, it costs more than $9 trillion every year to recycle all of this industrial waste. Failure to manage this problem can cause environmental damage, direct financial losses, and massive regulatory fines.
What Is Industrial Waste?
Industrial waste is any material generated by industrial processes which may be unwanted, hazardous, residual, or leftover from the production process. These consist of secondary, toxic/chemical, and solid waste. But, without a doubt, solid waste represents the most significant volume of industrial waste.
There are a series of significant imbalances in this sector. For example, while as much as 75 percent of the world’s industrial waste could be recycled, less than 30 percent is actually recycled.
In part, this is because companies view recycling as one more expense to factor into operational overhead, which creates a significant disincentive to employing this technique. Fortunately, some changes are emerging as disruptive technologies arrive. For example, Internet of Things (IoT) technologies have proven their ability to optimize production to lower the overall production of waste in the first place.
How Can IoT Help with Industrial Waste Management?
It is worth noting that technological advancements are a key part of the waste problem that we now face in industrial processes. Fortunately, technological advancements also provide innovative solutions that can help us meet such challenges when they emerge. IoT is completely changing the game regarding industrial waste management best practices.
First, we can greatly enhance the efficiency of recycling and waste collection by using internet of things services and solutions. Such technologies allow us to automate, optimize, and understand the entire waste management process differently. This means businesses have an incentive to deploy these technologies because they can use them to produce less garbage and waste less money.
There is a wide range of solutions to this problem. However, the major advantage of IoT is the ability to gather huge amounts of data and update it in real-time based on input from a wide array of cost-effective distributed sensors. These inexpensive sensors and recording and monitoring equipment send all of their data to the cloud for storage and examination. Then, AI models can analyze the data and draw conclusions that yield actionable insights.
As a series of case studies, we will look at how businesses in the food, agriculture, transportation, and energy sectors implement the smart management of their waste streams.
Food Industry Smart Waste Solutions
In the context of the food industry, smart waste management means:
- Optimizing the number and path of truck trips
- Reducing carbon emissions
- Financial savings
- A boost to public image
Each year the process of food production and sale wastes around 1.3 billion tons of food. The truly shocking thing is that this waste represents around 33 percent of all the food we make for people to consume. Because of the prevalence of landfill sites for garbage disposal, improperly handled food and food waste often end up in these sites. This process implies expensive pickup routes and further carbon emissions.
This unnecessary waste represents an inefficient use of fees, budgets, landfill taxes, and other costs. As a result, many companies have begun to leverage IoT technologies by combining apps, GPS systems, user portals, and distributed smart sensors. This approach lets them reduce and streamline their waste collection and storage systems. For example, inexpensive, distributed sensors can notify an automated management system when a container reaches capacity. This allows large organizations to make better decisions about scheduling pickups and optimize truck pick-up routes.
Let’s look at how this impacted one household name. In 2018 Enevo helped McDonald’s reduce waste management costs by 12 percent and increase recycling diversion by 50 percent. Enevo installed sensors in the restaurant’s seven garbage collection bins across Nottingham to reduce waste inefficiencies and track recycling diversion. Now McDonald’s can accurately track recycling rates and understand far more about where the waste goes when it leaves a restaurant.
Food creates a particular challenge in the form of methane emissions. By using compost effectively, companies can reduce their waste service bills and put a cap on these emissions. Since most food waste is compostable, it is also possible to track the decay process of organic waste within their waste containers using pH sensors.
Agricultural Smart Waste Solutions
In agriculture, IoT waste management helps companies:
- Improve efficiency
- Boost sustainability
- Improve green image
- Reduce costs
- Track and improve recycling
Each year the total production of agricultural waste is around 998 million tons. This is particular to agriculture because nearly every agricultural activity generates byproducts, from planting to bagging. The other point distinct to the agro-waste landscape is the type of waste. These can include hazardous agricultural waste, ordinary animal waste, crop waste, and food waste.
The most concerning form of agricultural waste is the possible contamination of groundwater with pesticides used to protect crops from dangerous insects and rodents. Other types of waste produced by millers, packagers, and transporters exacerbate this problem.
IoT on farms plays a critical role in addressing these problems by helping to promote proper waste disposal and reduce the generation of waste in the first place. Agricultural companies can also use drones to check on soil nutrient levels. This advantage clarifies exactly how much or how little fertilizer is necessary to promote adequate plant growth. These technologies combine to help track every stage of the growing cycle to apply the correct amount of fertilizer and pesticide at the appropriate stage and have less run-off. This leads to efficiency savings, cost savings, and environmental savings.
When equipped with sensors and actuators, farming waste bins can turn what used to be human-led processes into automated processes. This same technology can cost-effectively monitor the capacity levels of waste bins and storage containers multiple times per day. Any data harvested by these sensors will automatically transfer into the cloud and turns into useful data on the capacity states of the various containers monitored by the system. This data helps farmers decide whether to empty a bin or change their waste storage processes. This data also helps with waste collection, route optimization, vehicle loading, and siting or distribution of waste bins. These systems have led to cost reductions of 30 percent for waste collection and carbon emission reductions of 60 percent.
Transportation Smart Waste Solutions
By using IoT in smart waste management, transportation companies can reduce:
- Workplace waste
- Carbon emissions
- Disposal/Storage costs
In the transport industry, freight fleets and their maintenance yield significant wastes, many of which can be highly toxic. Where environmental regulations permit it, utilizing this waste can be an excellent efficiency measure. Still, it’s even better to avoid producing the waste at all. This avoids expensive disposal costs and specialized equipment such as high-temperature incinerators. Warehousing activities also produce pallets, packaging materials, and paper of various kinds, which is far easier to recycle or reuse than many other transportation wastes. However, few companies make use of these possible efficiency enhancement measures. These companies face legal liability, reputational damage, and financial costs by failing to seize these efficient waste management opportunities.
Companies can reduce their packaging waste by using IP video cameras at waste dump sites. These cameras then monitor the waste inflow and notify appropriate staff to enable them to make proactive decisions. It’s also possible to deploy sensors to keep a closer eye on the ongoing condition of waste management equipment images. Data from these sensors can also allow remote staff to predict and schedule appropriate equipment maintenance or waste diversion.
Energy Industry Smart Waste Solutions
Through smart waste management, energy companies can:
- Manage the waste sorting with up to 99 percent accuracy
- Lower their carbon emissions
- Enhance safety and cleanliness of the working environment
- Reduce costs of waste collection
- Optimize waste management and collection processes
Resource-intensive energy businesses use IoT to reduce their overall environmental impact and slash operating costs. As this sector is undergoing a radical shift from fossil-based or conventional energy sources to primarily renewable sources, waste streams are also transforming. Waste from the deployment and ongoing use of renewable energy sources can include glass, paper, copper, and steel. Fortunately, it’s possible to recycle or reuse many of these materials. As we have seen in other sectors, IoT is a phenomenal helper in this case. Energy companies can differentiate between non-recyclable and recyclable materials by using ultrasonic sensors that they install on sorting lines. This technique allows engineers to divert, capture, and reintroduce waste materials into the production cycle.
Mishandling industrial waste can have catastrophic consequences for the environment and human and animal life. From a purely pragmatic business standpoint, this waste mismanagement can also lead to lost revenue, fines, and even more severe legal ramifications. Fortunately, IoT can drastically improve smart waste management.