Innovation

Five digital waste platforms that could head to the UK

With the planet set to accommodate nine billion inhabitants by 2030 - 60 per cent of whom will live in urban areas - managing our cities sustainably and effectively is one of the most pressing challenges of our time.

Smart technologies are being increasingly used to make better use of resources, enabling autonomous devices that activate when needed or compiling data that can be used to streamline services or create new ones based on previously undiscovered need.

But as well as making cities and public services better, digital technologies are also revolutionising the way private companies serve their customers.

We all know about Uber and AirBnb, but the digital revolution is taking hold of the waste industry too. From digital waste marketplaces to recycle-for-rewards schemes, tiny start-ups and environmental giants alike are coming up with ever more futuristic methods of collecting and disposing of waste.

Here are some from around the world that could soon find themselves on British shores.


Five digital waste platforms that could be heading to the UK
1. Rubicon

Dubbed by Forbes magazine as ‘The Uber of trash’, Rubicon Global uses its software to connect small-scale waste producers with collectors on an ad-hoc basis. It also enables collectors to see which of their vehicles is making the most pickups, while letting the clients see how much residual waste and recycling they are creating and how often they need to use the service.

The company was established by 36-year-old Nate Morris in Kentucky in 2008 and last year was awarded its first municipal contract in Atlanta, after building a network of 5,000 collection businesses, with input from informal taxi service Uber’s founding Chief Technical Officer Oscar Salazar.

Rubicon has now expanded beyond the US, earlier this year announcing a strategic partnership with European firm SUEZ environment. The company’s technology is to be used in SUEZ’s fleet of vehicles to modernise its collection business, to improve its customer portal and digital platforms, and for the optimization of the collection of small, dispersed quantities of waste.

The platform doesn’t look like going away, either. It was last month valued at $1 billion (£740 million) following a $50-million (£36.9 million) investment from Mexican private equity firm Promecap.


2. Organix

Another of SUEZ’s recent projects is Organix, which was rolled out in France in July. Billed as the ‘first digital marketplace for organic waste,’ the platform links organic waste producers with biogas operators to facilitate energy recovery from such waste.

SUEZ launches ‘first digital marketplace for organic waste’ in France
A screenshot of the Organix digital platform
The transaction process supported by the platform works like eBay, seeing producers offer waste on the site with details on its quality and the nature of its flows. The biogas operator can then pay the stated price, in which case the transaction is processed immediately, or can initiate an auction process, at the end of which the producer can choose whether to accept or reject the best offers made.

For example, a producer can place a one-off listing for 300 tonnes of whey or 25 tonnes of apples that it is looking to dispose of, with details of its expected output at biogas sites (like anaerobic digestion) and the price it is looking for.

Organix is currently only available in the northern regions of Brittany, Normandy and Pays de Loire but SUEZ intends for it to cover the whole of France by the end of this year. SUEZ also plans to continually update the platform, adding new functionalities.


3. Tiptapp

Created in response to the citywide strike of Stockholm’s waste collectors this summer, Swedish app Tiptapp pairs people who want to get rid of their rubbish with people willing to dispose of the waste against payment; typically people with leftover space in their car.

Five digital waste platforms that could be heading to the UK
The app ensures that legal and responsible waste disposal actually takes place after pick-up: only after the collector snaps a picture with the app and records the coordinates of the disposal container does the payment take place. Beyond waste disposal, the app also enables people to donate old items that can be used by other people.  

In the UK, of course, the Duty of Care means that you cannot give your waste to anybody that is not certified to transport or dispose of it, no matter their intentions and so under current regulations, such a solution would not be viable without alteration.

In Sweden, however, Tiptapp recently raised 20 million krona (£1.8m) to expand its solution, which now includes courier delivery services of newly purchased furniture. The company – founded in 2015 by Bjelkstam along with David Höök, Fredric Rylander and Anders Lövbrand – is now looking to expand abroad, aiming to eventually cover all of the Nordic countries.


4. Cyclefi

Incentive schemes for recycling are nothing new, but Greece-based Cyclefi has utilised digital technology to use precise rewards as a way to drive up the country’s lagging recycling performance.

Recycling is yet not part of the culture in Greece
Cyclefi is a digital platform where users receive rewards for recycling, created with the intention of improving the country’s lack of recycling culture. At present, Greece only recycles 16 per cent of household waste, far below the EU average of 28 per cent. 

Users of Cyclefi subscribe to an online service where they receive a unique QR tag to stick to their recycling bag. At the recycling facility, each time Cyclefi finds a tag it adds points to the profile of the bag’s corresponding user. The user can then redeem the points with specific discount partners including electricity providers and supermarkets.

The service currently operates in three large municipalities in the Attica region, with 11 more having expressed interest in joining. Next, Cyclefi intends to reach all of the municipalities in Attica and eventually the whole of Greece. The company has received several start-up awards for innovation, and is currently in negotiations for funding from the EU as well as from overseas investors.


5. Enevo

In Rotterdam, the local government recently partnered with Finnish firm Enevo to better manage the city’s waste budget, by using the company’s Smart Plan software in its recycling collections.

Smart streets: How the Internet of Things is revolutionising waste
Enevo's service is one example of smart technology and sensors being used to map and time waste collections
This involved installing wireless sensors into a selection of the city’s paper and cardboard collection containers. These sensors monitor the fill levels within the containers and are linked to the waste department’s project office via Enevo cloud servers. This data is then compared to trend data in order to predict future waste collection needs.

The software also provides dynamic route planning and driver route guidance using in-cab tablet computers. The system analyses millions of possible collections options and provides the most optimal collection route.

The trial’s ‘proof of concept’ first stage surpassed a target to increase the efficiency of collections by 20 per cent, and Enevo’s Smart Plan software now caters to 40 per cent of Rotterdam’s paper and cardboard waste collection containers.

Homepage image: Kote Baeza, Creative Commons

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