Smart Cities: Managing Garbage with Technology

By Terri Lewis

No matter what city we live in, people produce garbage. So how do we deal with it responsibly and cost effectively? That’s where we again turn to technology, as part of Smart City strategies, to help responsibly and cost effectively manage waste.

Technology is positively helping to transform the management of waste. If we explore what’s happening, let’s start by thinking about waste by three different sources or value of waste:

Stuff you want to get rid of, but it might be worth something to someone else. This is the stuff you try to sell or donate. In the past, the avenues to connect with future buyers/users was through consignment shops, advertising in classified section of the local paper, garage sales, or donations to non-profits, churches, etc. While all of these options still exist, there has been exponential growth in new internet options like eBay, Amazon, Etsy, Craigslist, Meta (Facebook) Marketplace, etc.

eBay alone has a gross merchandise annual volume of over $87+Billion. For those wanting to donations, eBay started eBay Giving Works in 2003, raising over $500M for charities. Not bad for a company started in 1995. While on-line sales and donations of used goods is not a city government driven change, the internet has helped reduce the amount of waste going to local landfills.

Stuff that has no value to anyone, e.g your typical home or business garbage that the county provides services for pick-up and disposal. For Lee County, the major providers for pick-up services are Waste Pro and Waste Management. Waste Pro announced in June 2021 the addition of trucks to their fleets, loaded with technology like Advanced Driver-Assistance which has controls and software for correction of oversteering/understeering, rollover stability controls, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind spot detection, blind spot warnings… (more tech than in many cars)! You’ll notice too, the robotic arms on both companies’ trucks, which pick up and dump garbage cans into the trucks. This replaces the one or two people who used to manually do this, riding around hanging on the back of the garbage truck. With a labor shortage in the industry, it’s a great technology enhancement to replace physically demanding, very tough jobs. The waste industry has many examples of use of technology to improve safety and productivity of workers.

The last focus is on roadside trash. According to a 2020 study by Keep America Beautiful, litter in the US totaled about 50 billion pieces of litter, or about 152 items/person, and 2,000 pieces/mile. It’s was comprised of over 800 million pieces of fast-food packaging, 2.6 billion food packing pieces, 350 million plastic bags, with twice as much of the beverage containers from alcoholic beverages than non-alcoholic. It’s the litter that lines our streets, pollutes our beaches or blows into our yards. And it’s expensive to clean up. It’s sad to see this kind of garbage in a beautiful area like Lee County.

Keep Lee County Beautiful (KLCB) as Lee County’s largest volunteer-based community action and education organization, is working to prevent roadside trash through education, but also in assisting in remediation. KLCB is embracing technology by encouraging the use of the Clean Swell app, developed with the Ocean Conservancy.

The app allows each of us to be part of the solution. You can record trash that you collect, share your results via social media (encouraging friends to help), see the total weight of the trash you’ve collected, and helps you be part of a global movement to keep beaches, waterways and the ocean trash free. It allows community leaders to know exactly what is littering our community and where it’s happening. Analyzing the data, government and community can take tangible action to help prevent it.

The other cool technology that KLCB is embracing is Be-Bot, the beach cleaning robot. Its 100% electric, remote controlled robot that sifts the sand at the surface level, collecting some of the toughest most littered garbage to collect; cigarette butts and bottle caps. Plans are to have the Be-Bot in Lee County in the fall.

Smart Cities are using technology to manage garbage more efficient, safer and at lower costs. Next time you see your waste professional making the rounds to collect your garbage, thank them. If you have something you want to get rid of, but not worn out, look at the different options availble to sell or donate. There are many in the area who are in need. And lastely, as we approach the 4th of July, a day of pride of our country, download the Clean Swell app and take your kids or other family members on an adventure to help pick up some of the road waste. It can be a fun, educational, experience to help make Lee County a more beautiful place to live.

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