5 Ways Smart Cities Are Leveraging Technology for Waste Management
by Jane Marsh
Since 1950, the world’s urban populace has risen by more than 5 times.
As the World Economic Forum puts it, “in the 21st century, few trends have matched the economic, environmental, and societal impact of rapid urbanization.” [quote from – weforum.org/mapped-the-dramatic-global-rise-of-urbanization]
Demand for goods and food rises with the increase in urban people, and as demand has risen, so has the creation of trash. Waste and landfills are significant problems in many cities. So what can be done to help lessen this issue? Among the many benefits of smart cities is modern waste management.
Smart cities provide many environmental benefits. They can monitor air quality, which could lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). The cities can track energy consumption as well and make necessary adjustments to use it in the most efficient way. Electricity use is one of the biggest producers of carbon, so an entire city being able to change how they use electricity is a major asset. Below are five ways smart cities are using technology to manage their trash.
What Is a Smart City?
The simplest definition of a smart city is a city that collects data through technology to improve service, quality of life, and equity for businesses and residents.
While this might seem like a new idea, the concept goes back to the 1970s in Los Angeles. “A Cluster Analysis of Los Angeles” was the first urban data project, and the idea has expanded since then.
To truly be defined as smart, a city requires these three things:
- Data: Using devices to generate and gather information
- Connectivity: Connecting devices to exchange that information
- Government involvement: Interpreting data to provide better service
All of these things are used to provide inhabitants with a better experience. Through technology, local governments can offer their citizens more.
How Are Smart Cities Helping?
A better environment means better human health – both mentally and physically. Urban areas produce more pollution than rural ones. As smart cities work to reduce pollution, these areas will reduce their chances of developing these health conditions. With better air and healthier bodies, people are inclined to get outside more, which positively affects their mental health.
As waste decomposes, it releases GHGs like methane. Landfills account for 16% of total methane emissions and the United States is responsible for the greatest generation of waste per person per day. To counteract this, the population either needs to reduce how much trash they create or find better ways to manage it at all steps.
The Newest Waste Management Technologies
One of the best ways smart cities help the environment is through waste management. Here are 5 ways that modern waste management technologies are keeping cities clean>>>
- Waste-Level Sensors
To prevent unnecessary driving, smart cities are using waste-level sensors to gauge how much trash is in a given receptacle. These sensors can predict when a trash can needs emptying by accumulating data. This prevents overflowing and truck drivers need to constantly refuel their vehicles.
The average garbage truck gets about three miles per gallon of diesel fuel, emitting about the same amount of carbon as 20 homes. Cutting down on gas use is great for the climate, and waste-level sensors can accomplish this.
In order to reduce how much trash ends up in landfills, cities use waste-to-energy (W2E) processes. W2E changes solid waste into fuel through gasification, combustion, pyrolization, anaerobic digestion, and landfill gas recovery. W2E reduces emissions created by landfills. Companies performing W2E conversion can take care of disposables like:
- Yard waste and other plant matter
- Agriculture waste and wood products
- Paper, plastics, and other consumer products
By using this method of waste management, smart cities can change how they create energy. When trash is created, W2E gives a new purpose to items that would otherwise decompose in an unsafe way.
- Pneumatic Waste-Collection Systems
Another way smart cities are managing waste is with pneumatic waste collection. When a person needs to throw something away, they can dispose of it in one of the specified receptacles for their kind of trash. Once the bin is full, a vacuum carries the material to a processing facility. There, compactors crush the waste into containers and collectors take them off-site.
In 2021, New York City announced the first installation of pneumatic tubes in Upper Manhattan. They believe transporting trash this way will improve the air quality nearby and reliably remove waste regardless of weather or staff.
- Smart Waste Containers
These are very different from the average trash can. Whenever someone places a piece of trash into a smart waste container, the bin weighs and scans the item. Then it compresses the waste and judges whether it is now too full.
If the answer is yes, it alerts waste disposal managers that the container is ready for emptying. Therefore, they reduce how often garbage trucks need to collect from them by storing more than regular cans.
- Recycling AI
All urban recycling efforts are important. Alongside traditional recycling efforts, recycling artificial intelligence (AI) has become the latest sustainability trend in smart cities.
By using AI, waste receptacles can judge whether they should send a piece of trash to a recycling facility. The containers can see what someone has put in them with cameras and detectors and send it to the correct processor.
Smart cities reduce how much trash ends up in landfills and create easier recycling-center sorting when using AI. One of its massive benefits is the trainability of AI, giving it the ability to learn and adapt as time goes on.
Use Technology for Smart City Waste Management
Smart cities are the cities of the future, and how they address waste proves this to be true. From smart waste containers to waste-to-energy, they are upgrading both how they remove trash and go about disposing of it. Any city can become a smart city when it leverages technology for waste management.
Article by Jane Marsh
Jane works as an environmental and energy writer. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of
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