The Internet of Bins

Being British, I am genetically predisposed to enjoy a pun and the ‘internet of bins’ works for me!

‘Global smart waste collection technology’ is the more prosaic description for an interconnected network of sensors, data and algorithms that can identify and track waste from source to destination.

Household waste is usually in the news when people express fear or anger about ‘state snooping’. Probably, for similar reasons that drunk drivers express fear or anger at police officers snooping with their breathalysers. But, the need for an effective and global waste management system, cannot be ignored and is trumping people’s worries of being fined for putting a can in the cardboard bin.

The World Bank’s “What a Waste 2.0” report, estimates that world waste production will be nearly three and half billion tonnes by 2050 and that given “at least 33% of this waste is mismanaged globally today through open dumping or burning”, this terrible figure represents a viable threat to all life on earth.

Could you imagine that a video of a plastic straw being pulled out of a sea turtle’s nose would exist or that it would be real?!

Globalisation has had a tough time recently – efficiently transporting viruses was never part of the plan – and waste has not been immune to those headwinds.

Under their National Sword policy, China declared itself out of the rubbish game. On January 1st 2018, the country that had handled nearly half the world’s waste, banned the import of many plastics and other waste materials.

Whilst some countries stepped into the void, the public that both create and accept waste, know that out of sight is no longer out of mind: they are demanding quite rightly, that their governments know how it is produced, where it goes and how it is processed.

The wonderfully named, ‘Art of Possible’ event series promotes Scottish excellence and in May of this year, I joined their ‘Future of Space Data’ workshop.

Their presenters included sustainability campaigner and successful businessman, Mike Groves who explained how he and his Topolytics team are using a combination of global data acquisition, sophisticated algorithms and location to create a platform that will track the how, where and what of waste. All around the world.

Google and SAP recognised that as a valuable ambition, when they judged Topolytics to have won their Circular Economy 2030 Contest and awarded the team, US$100,000. Good value, when you know that those two giant multinationals estimate that reducing waste and pollution can unlock $4.5 trillion of new economic output!

People understand ‘food miles’ – the concept that moving food over great distances has a significant environmental impact – and, whilst the idea is the same for trash, providing information upon which a waiting industry can make decisions, is not so straight-forward.

Ingesting data that describes all manner of types of waste, its amount, its starting location and final resting place, isn’t easy. Formats, regulations and levels of indifference towards those regulations, vary wildly from country-to-country.

The Topolytics WasteMap analytics platform ingests data from earth observation satellites, in-situ sensors, csv files and digitised manifests to provide priceless insight into the local, national and international movement of what is becoming an ever more dangerous cargo.

As the model grows and the waste miles are better and more accurately understood, their financial impact can be evaluated. That is a tangible reason for creators and processors to take action as well as the small matter of saving the planet’s fragile ecosystem.

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