Can These Tech Companies Solve the World’s Garbage Problem?

Traditional methods can’t keep up with the 1.3 billion tons of solid waste generated per year, making waste collection ripe for disruption.

(Photo: Walter Zerla/Getty Images)

Sep 12, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Patricia Dao is a regular contributor to TakePart. She is a Los Angeles–based serial tech entrepreneur and managing director of the nonprofit Girls in Tech–LA.

Discussing the most efficient way to get rid of trash isn’t a popular topic of conversation around the watercooler, but it should be. Cities around the world generate an estimated 1.3 billion tons of solid waste per year. Thanks to increased urbanization, a trend that’s expected to grow, that amount could soar to a daunting 2.2 billion tons of refuse per year by 2025. That’s why some of the world’s tech companies are taking a crack at solving the garbage problem.

Since 2003 Newton, Mass.–based BigBelly Solar has created solar-powered bins that act as on-site trash compactors. The compacting process instantly increases the capacity of trash cans and minimizes the overflow. That decreases the number of garbage pickups needed. After Philadelphia adopted the smart trash compactor, pickups per bin in the city decreased from three times per day to less than three times per week. That saved the city nearly $900,000 in just one year, reports Time.

So why isn’t every city using the BigBelly solution? It can cost up to $4,000 for a single bin, leaving only those cities with full coffers with the opportunity to make the investment. Not surprisingly, with more garbage comes the need for additional resources and money to manage it. The World Bank estimates a global increase of $205 billion to $375 billion in waste management costs. Managing waste well can reduce greenhouse admissions and climate pollutants in a city­. But not all cities around the world have the infrastructure, operational resources, or funds to make this happen.

BigBelly’s business model might not lend a realistic helping hand to the poorest countries around the world—which have increasing waste management costs due to the need for better operational infrastructures—to manage waste. This is where Finland-based Enevo can help. The company has created Enevo ONe, a cost effective sensor-based solution that is helping both cash-flush big cities around the globe and developing regions that need effective waste removal.

How does Enevo ONe work? Small wireless sensors are placed inside city garbage bins and recycling stations. Each sensor has the ability to monitor how full a bin is. The sensors then transmit this data directly to the waste management company, which can send a garbage truck when the bin is full.

A user doesn’t have to be a tech wiz to figure out the data. Enevo created a robust interface that visually shows a bin’s fill-level status in real time. It also provides a forecast of when sanitation workers can expect a bin to be full. From there operators can provide a list of containers and daily routes for their trucks to tackle for the day.

Not only does this dynamic data help to save operational costs (the company claims up to 50 percent in savings), but it also ensures that over-piled waste isn’t a health hazard.

The company, which operates in 25 countries, recently announced $8 million in venture capital investment.

Some investors believe the Enevo ONe will be the tech-disrupting garbage version of Uber or Airbnb. That said, it remains to be seen whether the company can scale and overcome some of the larger waste management problems that exist around the world. Given that half the trash around the globe is burned, emitting pollutants that cause climate change and damage our health, let’s hope either Enevo or BigBelly can help.