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3 smart cities using technology to tackle waste management

Case studies and areas of opportunity for the future 

Smart cities are reimagining the way we see urban living, aiming to increase efficiency, sustainability and well-being for all their residents. The technological era we’re living in and the integration of technologies like IoT, data analytics and automated systems have made these types of cities possible, pushing the limits of innovation as far as our imaginations can picture.  

In a world where the lines between people and technology get blurrier by the minute, it makes sense to leverage these technologies to help our needs. Today, the world is in urgent need of environmental action. For this reason, we must learn to use technology to tackle the crisis.  

One of the main topics of discussion is the waste crisis. Rapid urbanization, population growth, and unsustainable consumption patterns have led to cities around the world struggling to cope with waste management. This results in overflowing landfills that lead to air, soil, and water pollution among other negative effects on the environment, public health, and ecosystems. 

However, cities around the world have begun taking action, and these three cities are good examples of how technology can be used to address and tackle the waste management crisis.  

Barcelona

Tech used: IoT sensors and data analytics 

Problem addressed: Environmental impact of waste recollection within the city 

Using IoT sensors, Barcelona city monitors the fill level of bins in real time across the city. This data is transmitted to a central management system which, paired with data analytics, creates optimized routes for waste recollection based on demand, maximizing efficiency per trip, minimizing vehicle emissions. 

“The average garbage truck gets about three miles per gallon of diesel fuel, emitting about the same amount of carbon as 20 homes.”

Green City Times

Different from traditional fixed schedules, this data-driven approach to waste recollection reduces fuel consumption and carbon footprint related to this activity. These efforts, in addition, reduce operational costs and align with the city’s environmental goals.  

While these solutions only address the recollection side of waste management, the city is currently making efforts for improved waste sorting and processing systems, recycling, organic waste treatment, and minimizing landfill disposal/gas management. In addition, the city continues to research and innovate in search of alternative waste management methods, looking to explore modern technologies like waste-to-energy processes and more.  

Singapore 

Tech used: IoT sensors, solar powered compactors, and digitalization  

Singapore is tackling waste management by equipping waste containers with sensors for real time reports of filling status for increased efficiency in recollection. In addition, the city has made efforts to introduce solar powered smart waste containers equipped with trash compactors, which help increase the capacity of each bin by up to eight times.  

In addition, Singapore has integrated gamification strategies to their myENV app, leveraging digital platforms to engage citizens and encourage responsible waste behavior.  

Seattle 

Tech used: Renewable energy and gas-powered vehicle fleets 

Along with smart, IoT based waste technology, Seattle launched a fleet of renewable electricity and natural gas-powered trucks for recycling, compost, and garbage collection. The effort results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants for the city, improving air quality and reducing carbon footprint. But the benefits of alternative fuel, hybrid, and electric vehicles don’t stop there. The new fleets introduced by Seattle also contribute to noise reduction measures, minimizing disruptions during collecting activities and promoting quality of life for citizens.  


While these tech-based solutions are taking massive strides towards more efficient waste management systems worldwide, there is still a long way to go to achieve the environmental goals the planet needs today. The cases we studied today heavily focus on waste collection within cities. These programs, however effective, must be paired with some important strategies to truly tackle the problem from the source. Some examples are:  

  • Waste reduction: reusable products, encouraging responsible consumption, and minimizing packaging. 
  • Recycling and Recovery: A robust recycling infrastructure ensures that valuable materials do not reach landfills and incinerators. 
  • Composting and Organic Waste Management 
  • Circular Economy Practices: Adopting circular economy principles promotes designing products for durability, repairability, and recyclability. 
  • Public Education and Awareness 
  • Policy and Regulation: Governments can incentivize sustainable practices, set waste diversion targets, and enforce proper waste management standards. 
  • Innovation and Technology: Leveraging technology, such as smart waste collection systems and advanced sorting techniques, enhances the efficiency of waste management processes. 

On the topic of innovation and technology, these are some other areas of focus for the immediate future:  

  • Waste-to-energy: By innovating in waste-to-energy processes, waste could be more efficiently leveraged for the creation of fuels, reducing the emissions and pollution produced in landfills.  
  • AI powered recycling: AI-powered waste receptacles can more efficiently and effectively identify and separate recyclable materials and send them to the proper facilities. An AI powered bin could “see” what is being disposed of and separate accordingly. Creating a more streamlined process and maximizing efficiency on for facilities.  
  • Pneumatic waste collection: Pneumatic waste collection bins vacuum the disposed materials directly to a facility when full. This results in improved air quality and reliable waste removal. 

While the road to go is still long, innovations worldwide give us reasons to believe human creativity and technology can work together to tackle this crisis. What are some actions your city is taking to manage waste locally? 

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