5 ways digital transformation is revolutionising waste and recycling

  Pritesh Pattni


Digital transformation is more than a business buzzword; it’s critical to operating and competing effectively. Those businesses that are still reliant on an array of legacy systems, or who haven’t caught up with the expectations their customers have will find themselves falling behind. For the waste and recycling industry, digital transformation has two main threads: making the customer-facing process of collecting, sorting and managing waste more efficient, and streamlining processes within waste and recycling businesses themselves to improve margins, create new income streams and work towards a circular economy.

In this article we’re looking at 5 ways that digital transformation can – and is – revolutionising the waste and recycling industry. The areas we’ve focused on go across both the threads mentioned above. In reality, there are many more areas where embracing digital can empower the industry to do more for business, people and planet.

1. Smart waste collection systems 

We’re all used to the way traditional waste collection methods work. We put out the relevant waste on the relevant day, and it’s collected and managed. The details of how this works in practice varies not just from one country to another, but one local area to another. For example, in the UK, some local authorities given homeowners and businesses the opportunity to recycle a wide range of items – from cardboard to electricals – whilst others are much further behind.

Some countries operate a Pay-as-you-Throw scheme, where waste is weighed on collection and each person is charged according to how much they throw away. This is the starting point for smart waste collection systems – something that requires digital transformation. This method relies on the concept of IoT (Internet of Things) devices and sensors.

These devices can be integrated into waste bins to monitor their fill-level in real-time. By analysing the data collected from these sensors, waste management companies can optimise collection routes, anticipate when bins will reach capacity, and allow for proactive collection, preventing overflowing bins and helping people to focus on buying smarter, reusing and recycling to reduce their waste cost burden.

2. Engaging customers in better waste habits 

Engagement plays a crucial role in effective waste management and recycling. Digital transformation through online applications empowers people to actively participate in recycling initiatives through mobile applications. These applications provide users with information on recycling guidelines, collection schedules, and the nearest recycling centres. Additionally, they can incorporate gamification elements to incentivize recycling behaviour and foster a sense of community involvement. Furthermore, mobile applications enable users to report issues such as overflowing bins or illegal dumping, facilitating prompt action by waste management authorities. By leveraging mobile technology, cities can enhance communication with residents, promote sustainable practices, and ultimately increase recycling rates.

3. Improving route planning 

Waste and recycling businesses have real skin in the digital transformation game for their industry. It’s up to them not just to improve the services they provide to their clients, but also to improve their internal processes so that they are practising what they preach.

Part of this is looking at how these companies can make better use of their own resources, reduce their carbon footprint and optimise their processes. So it makes sense that these companies look at how technology can help them to manage their transportation and logistics more efficiently.

This includes route planning, where a surprising amount of waste can occur – not just in terms of vehicles on the road and fuel used, but also in terms of numbers of staff required, efficient shift management and vehicle wear and tear. Introducing intelligent technology to this part of the business can result in immediate savings, lower environmental impact and improved customer services.

4. Data analysis that transforms performance  

Data analytics is a powerful tool for optimising waste management operations and improving overall performance. More than that, it is essential in today’s competitive environment, where waste and recycling companies have to be highly competitive in order to win contracts.

Without digital transformation, companies are unlikely to have the complete visibility over the data in their business that they need. This data sits all the systems they operate including, commonly, excel spreadsheets, and without a method of drawing all this data into a central source, businesses simply can’t plan properly for the future.

By using technology to collate data, analyse it and produce useful insights, waste management companies can identify patterns, trends, and inefficiencies in their operations. This data-driven approach allows for informed decision-making, such as adjusting collection routes based on demand patterns or optimising recycling processes to maximise resource recovery. Data analysis can also support long-term strategic planning by providing insights into emerging trends, regulatory changes, and market dynamics.

5. Supporting the move to a circular economy 

We all need to move to a circular economy. We simply can’t keep using up the planet’s resources – they are finite. The concept of the circular economy is to maximise our use of resources and minimise the mining of new resources and the waste of end products. The more we can reuse and repurpose materials, the less harm we will cause to the planet and the people who live on it.

This requires a huge societal transformation, in which digital technology plays a huge role. This isn’t just limited to waste and recycling companies – every business needs to look again at supply chains, manufacturing processes, end of life reuse and recycling and overall waste reduction.

Digital transformation is already proving fundamental to getting the waste and recycling industry to where it needs to be, now and in the future. By introducing technologies that improve efficiency, highlight potential savings and new income streams and help both businesses and individuals to think differently about waste, we believe we can make a significant positive contribution to changing our economies and our planet for the better.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can support you with your businesses digital transformation journey.

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