Emily Folk


Historically, environmental sustainability has been a stumbling point for waste management systems. In 2018, the U.S. generated 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste, and half of it went to landfills. Even though there’s still significant room for improvement, the process has become greener over the years, largely thanks to technology.

Technology provides better ways to gather, sort and use waste, and new tools and methods are always emerging. As these advancements become more common, waste management will continue to become more sustainable. Here’s a look at five of the most futuristic methods in use today.

1. Smart Waste Bins

Several companies now make smart waste bins that offer a wide range of functions. Many include sensors that detect trash levels so they can alert users when they’re full. This information can help people track their disposal habits and optimize trash pickup schedules, reducing fuel consumption.

Some of these trash cans have interactive screens to guide users toward better waste management. They can tell people how to dispose of different items or communicate the environmental impact of some trash. That way, users can become more conscious of what they throw away.

2. Plasma Gasification

Waste-to-energy processes prevent waste from ending up in landfills and create relatively green power sources. One of the newest and most promising of these techniques is plasma gasification. In this process, plasma heats waste to extreme temperatures and converts it into usable gases like hydrogen.

One study found that plasma gasification could remove 83 million tons of CO2 emissions per year in California alone. Since this process produces hydrogen, it would also create a sustainable fuel source. Plasma gasification isn’t widespread yet because it’s so new, but its potential is impressive.

3. Pneumatic Waste Collection

Most cities and neighborhoods rely on fossil fuel-powered trucks to pick up their trash. This system can be inefficient and leads to emissions, so some areas have adopted a new approach. They use vacuum suction to empty garbage bins through a network of underground pneumatic tubes.

Pneumatic tubes are powered by air compressors, so their energy consumption is minimal. Since there are no trucks involved, greenhouse gas emissions aren’t a concern anymore, either. These systems are also faster than traditional disposal methods, giving waste management plants more time to sort rubbish.

4. Fleet Management Systems

Technology also provides a way forward for areas that still use a traditional trash pickup system. Fleet management technology, which is common in the logistics sector, can improve garbage collection. These systems use a network of sensors and GPS data to optimize vehicles’ routes.

Following the same route every day is convenient but isn’t always efficient. Changes in traffic, weather and the amount of waste can make different paths more or less practical. Fleet management systems allow drivers to adjust their routes to save time and reduce emissions.

5. AI Waste Sorting

Mistakes in waste sorting can lead to improper disposal and missed opportunities to recycle or reuse materials. Less than 1% of waste is monitored, which makes these errors likely. However, manual monitoring is inefficient and expensive. Artificial intelligence provides a solution.

AI applications like machine vision can help automated systems differentiate between different kinds of waste. They can then sort it more effectively and provide insights into areas’ disposal practices. Companies can then ensure they’re recycling all they can and avoid environmentally hazardous mistakes.

Technology Is Making Waste Management More Sustainable

Waste management doesn’t have to be wasteful. Thanks to these technologies, the world is becoming a more environmentally friendly place. New technology is emerging every day, too. As more people adopt these technologies, additional research and development will be funded. Tech’s impact on waste management will grow exponentially as a result.

Emily Folk covers topics in manufacturing and environmental technology. You can follow her blog, Conservation Folks, or her Twitter to get the latest updates.