Digitalisation and waste management

Circular economy, AI and technological innovation are terms that are used more and more these days. Not the least when talking about fighting waste pollution. In February 2021 The European Environment Agency (EEA) put together a briefing of a report about digitalisation and waste management that gives an overview of the main pros and cons of tech in waste with appealing illustrations.

Although I love innovation and smart tech solutions to make systems more effective, I have strong doubts that digitalization will save human civilization from waste pollution. For sure it is not a magic key to make the shift from linear economy to circular economy by itself.

Smart waste sorting robots and RFID tags alone cannot help us

The best waste is waste that is not created in the first place. Waste prevention is defined as measures taken before a substance, material or product has become waste, and that reduce:

a) the quantity of waste, including through the reuse of products or the extension of the life span of products;
b) the adverse impacts of the generated waste on the environment and human health; or
c) the content of harmful substances in materials and products” (Directive, E. C., 2008).

More reusable solutions should come to market and fair environmental evaluation must set in place for all products and services.

Tech does good too

I believe in the role of tech to some extent though. Greater digitalization can make waste management more efficient on some levels, e.g; 

  • robotic sorters 
  • collecting data about mismanaged waste with an AI-tool; and
  • providing useful data to make better decision in logistics and material use (recovery of high-value materials).

‘The digital transformation of Europe’s waste management infrastructure may create several generic trade-offs. The first is energy use. Supporting digital technologies can involve substantial energy requirements. A second concern is the material use required to produce the infrastructure, computing machines, the sorting robots, and other elements.

Lastly, all infrastructure has a lifespan after which it becomes waste itself. Preliminary examples of lifecycle analysis already indicate that the environmental benefits can outweigh such trade-offs by a large margin. However, more knowledge is needed to better understand this balance. Read the full article HERE.

Written by Kristiina Kerge, Tech Innovation Lead of Let’s Do It Foundation


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