PITTSBURGH, PA.—Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) and CleanRobotics today announced a partnership to implement AI recycling bin TrashBot at the airport to assist with smart waste management initiatives. As part of PIT’s commitment to exploring innovative aviation technologies, TrashBot will join the facility to sort passenger waste and recyclables with 96% accuracy.
TrashBot is a smart bin that sorts waste at the point of disposal while gathering data and delivering education to users. Through AI and robotics, TrashBot’s technology identifies and sorts the item into its corresponding bin, reducing contamination and recovering more recyclables. TrashBot is ideal for high-traffic areas where contamination inhibits successful recycling and composting. For airports, TrashBot can significantly influence waste diversion rates and educate a traveling population, driving long-term sustainable impact.
“TrashBot’s implementation at PIT Airport, and the work we do together, embodies how AI and robotics can transform waste management and sustainability practices within airports. We’re eager to see how TrashBot and associated waste data can support and advance PIT’s commitment to solving operational challenges through innovation,” said CleanRobotics CEO Charles Yhap.
The project is facilitated by PIT’s xBridge Innovation Center. Launched in 2020, xBridge is PIT’s proving ground for technologies and startups that solves for needs in today’s airports and tests and incubates strategic technologies that could be deployed in the future. The proof-of-concept and pilot site showcases new technologies in a real-world operating environment. The xBridge is designed to capitalize on and grow the region’s powerful tech economy right at the airport for the aviation industry and beyond. xBridge has partnered with firms ranging from global Fortune 500 companies to local start-ups for projects that have tackled air purification, deployed robotic floor scrubbers, and applied artificial intelligence to security wait times.
“The TrashBot is an innovative product that fits right into our vision of a more sustainable future,” said Cole Wolfson, xBridge Director. “Bringing AI and robotics into a sector like waste management, which affects the entire aviation industry, and giving us the ability to dramatically upgrade our recycling efforts is a game-changer. We’re really proud of this partnership with CleanRobotics.”
A mission-driven company, CleanRobotics aims to disrupt facility waste management by applying AI- and data-driven solutions to recycling programs. The CleanRobotics team is driven by the core belief that sorting waste accurately at the source is the best way to ensure recyclables and other recoverable materials are diverted from landfills. CleanRobotics’ mission ensures the effectiveness of recycling at high-traffic facilities while expanding education and securing the ROI of these programs.
Inflation, unemployment, bank collapses, economic fluctuations, and the threat of a recession are creating a world of uncertainty. Companies have responded to this uncertainty with layoffs and cost-cutting measures. But how does the state of the economy impact a company’s sustainability efforts?
Sustainability is challenging and seems even more so during economic recessions. However, history shows that putting sustainability commitments on the back burner is wrong and bad for business. This article will explore the connection between recessions and sustainability and strategies to maintain sustainable initiatives during an economic downturn.
The Current Picture
We are going through one of the most economically intense and uncertain times in the last few decades. We face three extremely challenging situations: the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war, and inflation. This has led to a turbulent stock market, higher interest rates, fewer startups, and a looming crypto winter.
The Historical Impact of Recessions on Sustainability Initiatives
The current economic picture might seem demotivating, but there is a bright side. Tough times often lead to a new generation of companies that thrive. Throughout history, the impact of economic recessions on sustainability initiatives has been mixed. While some companies deprioritize sustainability during an economic downturn, there have also been companies that have become more sustainable.
Sustainability does not mean that a company must deprioritize everything else. Instead, sustainability can help companies survive and recover from recessions. A paper on the impact of corporate sustainability explored this concept. Half of the 180 companies studied identified sustainability as core to their corporate strategy from about 1993. The other half adopted no sustainable practices. The results showed that $1 in an equally weighted portfolio of the first 90 companies in 1992 would have grown to $22.60 by the end of 2010, while the investment rose to only $15.40 for the other 90 companies.
During the 2008 financial crisis, some companies adopted sustainable practices that helped them reduce costs and improve operational efficiency. For example, many companies implemented energy-efficient solutions that reduced their carbon footprint and saved money on utility bills.
The COVID-19 pandemic also helped companies realize the importance of sustainability. It revealed the frailty of our global economy and society and reminded us that our identities are deeply entangled with that of our ecosystem. People learned that adopting sustainable practices like natural and non-toxic products will reduce exposure to harmful chemicals and pollutants, leading to better health outcomes. Supply chain disruptions and economic uncertainty also encourage people to rethink spending habits and prioritize more sustainable and environment-friendly purchases.
The extent to which economic recessions affect a company’s sustainability pursuits depends on various factors, including the duration and severity of the downturn, the prevailing condition of the industry and market, and the leadership and priorities of individual companies.
Strategies to Maintain Sustainability Initiatives During Economic Recessions
In a survey conducted by the World Economic Forum, nearly one-third (34%) of the respondents believed that the environment should be prioritized even at the cost of the economy. However, it can be difficult for companies to prioritize sustainability in a recession. Here are a few strategies to help companies maintain sustainability initiatives during economic recessions.
Focus on the Bigger Picture
During an economic recession, cost reduction is generally the highest priority. This is why your sustainability initiatives must align with your cost reduction goals. Sustainability initiatives often require some upfront investment but are cost-efficient in the long run. A few great ways to promote sustainability and reduce costs are by implementing resource-efficient processes and optimizing energy usage.
“Numerous studies show that companies with strong CSR goals and focus outperform their counterparts during economic downturns, including the 2008 recession. And they recover more quickly.” — Trisa Thompson, CRO at Dell Technologies
Engage Your Stakeholders and Board
Engaging stakeholders and the board is essential to make the most of your sustainability efforts. Stakeholders like customers, employees, and suppliers can help maintain sustainability during economic turbulence.
“Board oversight and putting board-related governance structures in place are not only more common, they are required under SASB and other initiatives.” — Ellen Weinreb, co-founder of Sustainability Veterans
Communicate the Benefits of Sustainability
It’s crucial to communicate the benefits of sustainability to stakeholders. It will make collaboration easier, and you can share ideas and find opportunities as a team.
Explore New Opportunities
“Recessions may put options on the table that would not be considered in normal times. Seize opportunities for more substantive redesign.” — Bart Alexander
An economic recession is a challenging time for individuals and organizations and an excellent time to explore new opportunities. There are many ways companies can use a recession to explore sustainability initiatives.
Focusing on energy efficiency can help organizations reduce their carbon footprint and save costs simultaneously. For example, installing energy-efficient lighting, appliances, and new HVAC systems, and implementing policies to reduce energy consumption.
Invest in renewable energy projects like solar panels and wind turbines to reduce your reliance on fossil fuels and save money. The upfront costs associated with renewable energy systems may be higher than traditional energy sources, but the long-term savings and benefits can be significant.
Implement a circular economy ethos by designing products and systems that minimize waste and maximize resource use. This could involve the use of recycled materials, implementing closed-loop systems, smart waste management, or designing products that can be repaired and reused. Circular economy practices can help businesses reduce costs and create a more sustainable business model.
Support local and sustainable supply chains by sourcing materials regionally, supporting fair trade practices, and considering the entire lifecycle of your materials. Supply chains often get disrupted during a recession, and by supporting local suppliers, businesses can build supply chains that are resilient and better equipped to weather economic downturns.
Economic recessions present a variety of challenges to sustainability. Organizations will typically prioritize financial stability over sustainable operations. However, it’s essential to recognize that sustainability and economic growth are not mutually exclusive, and pursuing sustainable practices can lead to economic benefits in the long run. Moreover, investing in sustainability initiatives during a recession can create jobs and stimulate economic activity, providing a pathway for recovery.
Policymakers and businesses must work together to incentivize and develop strategies to support sustainability. Ultimately, a healthy economy depends heavily on a healthy planet.
Do you know that e-waste is considered the fastest-growing waste stream in the world? According to the Global E-waste Monitor Report in 2020, 53.6 million metric tons of e-waste were generated worldwide in 2019.
As technology has fueled our society, e-waste presents a rapidly-growing environmental problem. The amount of e-waste generated yearly is increasing due to higher consumption rates, shorter life cycles, and fewer repair options. Oddly, the hope for a more sustainable future lies in using technology to address the e-waste crisis.
This article will explore the future of e-waste and the solutions to help make our electronics landscape more sustainable.
E-waste (Electronic Waste) refers to discarded electronic products. These products may be no longer in use, not functioning, outdated, and approaching or have reached the end of their “useful lifespan.” E-waste includes anything from consumer electronics like smartphones and laptops to industrial electronics like electric vehicle batteries and solar panels.
The Environmental, Economic, and Social Impacts of E-Waste
The improper disposal of e-waste has significant environmental, economic, and social implications. E-waste contributes to carbon emissions, and improper disposal means throwing away valuable resources.
Climate change: the production and disposal of electronics contribute to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions.
Water and soil pollution: improperly discarded e-waste also leads to soil and water pollution due to toxic substances like lead and mercury in devices.
Resource depletion: nearly all electronic devices contain precious metals in trace quantities. Since precious and rare earth metals are scarce, not recycling these products can lead to resource depletion.
The increased cost of healthcare: the environmental impact of e-waste can lead to health issues like congenital disabilities, respiratory problems, and neurological disorders, leading to increased healthcare costs.
Loss of valuable resources: improper disposal leads to a loss of valuable resources, resulting in low supply and higher costs.
Human rights violation: e-waste is often shipped to developing countries where it is processed under hazardous working conditions. Workers are routinely exposed to toxins, and many human rights, such as forced and child labor, are violated.
Disproportionate distribution of waste: low-income communities and communities of color are often unjustly exposed to e-waste, as most waste management facilities are near these communities.
Following the waste management hierarchy, here are ways to properly manage electronic waste.
The best way to minimize e-waste is by re-evaluating your decision to upgrade electronics. Before making a purchase, ask yourself if you truly need to upgrade. Additionally, buy products with a longer lifespan and multiple functions. Leading a minimalist lifestyle can help you leave a smaller carbon footprint.
If you can’t avoid purchasing new electronics, consider donating or selling your old devices. If they’re still functional and in good condition, you can most likely find someone who needs them more than you do. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also issued a guide on electronics donation and recycling.
Electronics recycling is an excellent way to avoid contamination and conserve valuable resources. However, it’s a complex and expensive process; in 2019, only 17.4% of e-waste was collected and recycled.
What makes this process complex is the nearly 60 elements from the periodic table that are present in the e-waste stream, including hazardous materials. Products that include various materials are generally difficult or impossible to recycle. And there still needs to be more knowledge and understanding about handling e-waste. Not only should e-waste be appropriately sorted, but the different streams must be dealt with individually.
Electronics include gold, silver, copper, platinum, and other high-value raw materials. When we dump or burn electronics instead of recycling or reusing them, we’re wasting valuable resources. We can recover 35 thousand pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium for every million recycled cell phones.
Discarding tech is still sometimes unavoidable, and if that’s the case, we must ensure the safe disposal of devices. Generally, governments and local communities provide guidelines on safe waste disposal for electronics.
EPR – Extended Producer Responsibility for Waste Reduction
EPR is a protection strategy aiming to reduce the environmental impact of a product and its packaging. It considers all estimated ecological costs associated with a product and requires producers to take responsibility for the entire product lifecycle. Container-take-back programs are one example of EPR, where consumers generally pay a small extra fee when purchasing a product that is refunded when they return the container to the retailer. Asking the industry to take back products at the end of a product’s life encourages it to design products to enhance their reusability. It also incentivizes the development of designs that boost recyclability and minimizes the impact of products that could otherwise remain in and pollute the waste stream. EPR programs are becoming more and more established throughout the world and will help ensure industry accountability.
The Role of AI and Technology in the Future of E-Waste
An average person in the United States generates approximately 20 kg of e-waste annually. New York City alone generates nearly 14 million tons of e-waste each year. Now, more than ever, we need an efficient system to deal with e-waste.
Electronics recycling becomes much easier and more efficient with a well-sorted waste stream. Researchers think AI and machine learning can help significantly with recycling these products. AI and ML algorithms are training and improving by the day, and they work with up to 90% accuracy in identifying electronics.
Innovative tech startups are also creating solutions to recover, recycle and reuse the core components of technologies. Solarcycle, for example, is one company looking to solve the climate tech waste problem. Launched last year in Oakland, California, it has since constructed a recycling facility in Texas where it extracts 95% of the materials from end-of-life solar panels and reintroduces them into the supply chain.
In a world where technology becomes obsolete within months, it’s no wonder we have an e-waste crisis. We must drastically change our electronics habits, hold the industry accountable for their products, and support innovation to sustainably manage e-waste now and in the future.
Landfills have been around for centuries. The very first landfill dates back 3,000 BC to Knossos, Crete (modern-day Greece), where people used to dig holes in the ground to dispose of refuse. Currently, the U.S. represents nearly 4% of the world population but is responsible for 12% of the global municipal solid waste (MSW). The current recycling rate in the U.S. is 32%, and more than half of the MSW still ends up in landfills.
This article discusses landfills, their impact, and how data and technologies can help maximize landfill operations and reduce emissions.
Landfill Emissions and Their Impacts
Landfills are designed mainly to dispose of waste that cannot be recycled, reused, repurposed, or composted. The types of waste that typically end up in landfills include municipal solid waste (MSW), construction and demolition debris, and industrial, electronic, medical, and hazardous waste. The waste in landfills undergoes decomposition, producing both liquid and gaseous byproducts.
Landfill emissions can be broadly classified into three categories: greenhouse gases, organic compounds (VOCs), and toxic air pollutants. Greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide are produced during the decomposition of organic waste in landfills. Methane, in particular, is nearly 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. On top of that, landfill emissions can also produce leachate (a toxic liquid), contaminating the soil and groundwater.
In the United States, MSW landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions. These emissions not only contribute to climate change but lead to various other environmental and social issues. In 2020, the methane emissions from MSW landfills were equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from about 20.3 million passenger vehicles driven for a year.
However, these harmful methane emissions can be captured and utilized as a significant energy source.
Data as a Tool for Evaluating Landfill Operations
It’s difficult to imagine landfills having a place in the circular economy. But data can play a critical role in making landfills safer and more efficient and in reducing their emissions. Data can help us understand the scope and source of emissions, track emissions reduction, and identify areas of improvement.
Here are a few ways data can improve landfill operations and help reduce emissions.
Emissions inventories: Data can be used to develop landfill emissions inventories, which compile information on the quantities and sources of greenhouse gas emissions from various sectors. The inventories track emission changes over time and provide a baseline for measuring progress toward emissions reduction goals.
Monitoring and reporting: Monitoring and reporting landfill emissions regularly can help identify areas where emissions can be reduced or controlled. Sophisticated monitoring can detect anomalies in daily operations, enable timely repair of methane leaks, support emissions reduction, and validate abatement strategies.
Identifying sources: Detailed data on landfill emissions can be used to identify the most significant sources of emissions, like methane and other GHG’s, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and toxic air pollutants. This can inform targeted emission reduction strategies and evaluate their effectiveness over time.
Evaluating technologies: Data can help evaluate the performance of various technologies used to reduce landfill emissions, such as methane capture and utilization systems.
Predictive modeling: Data can be used in predictive modeling to identify areas where emissions reductions are more likely to have a significant impact and then develop reduction strategies accordingly.
Public health assessments: Landfill data can assess the potential health impacts of landfill emissions on nearby communities. The information can further underscore strategies (like improving ventilation or implementing a buffer zone) to mitigate the impacts.
Education and outreach: An important use of data is to educate the public about the overall impacts of landfills. This can promote behavior change that leads to waste reduction at both the individual and community levels.
The Role of Data and Technology in Landfill Rehabilitation
Unregulated MSW landfills can cause a significant negative impact on the environment and community health. The decomposition of organic materials in landfills results in landfill emissions, leachates, pollution, odor, and the spread of disease. Landfill rehabilitation and smart landfill management are the answers to these problems and will ensure we only have safe, effective landfills.
Upgrading landfill systems can help transform a toxic space into a valuable community asset. According to a report from RMI, rehabilitating simple dump sites to sanitary landfills equipped with gas and leachate collection systems and other environmental controls will enable the capture of methane emissions and improve public health and safety.
Regulating and upgrading landfills also drives necessary change to the industry, transforming it from one whose priority is profit to a waste management system that is focused on resource recovery. In a recent issue of Municipal Solid Waste Management Magazine, Parker Dale, President of Bio-Organic Catalyst, says,
“The old model was to make money off the dumping fees. And then as you had renewables, the value of the gas was recognized and better management began to seep in and you had the evolution of the industry and more sophistication in management to support the mechanism of action that was really biological. Now it’s about optimizing the carbon cycle to essentially turn the whole thing into useable converted waste, producing useable resources such as compost and methane.”
Innovation to Support Responsible Landfill Operations
The World Bank reports that global waste is expected to grow by 70% by 2050. While source reduction remains the best method for reducing our dependency on landfills and combatting emissions, landfills won‘t be going away soon. As a significant part of waste management, we must use data and technology to ensure landfills’ efficacy and long-term sustainability. From developing emission inventories to monitoring and reporting to landfill rehabilitation, data has the potential to reduce landfill emissions and help us recover as much value from them as possible.
While the sustainability movement continues to make huge waves across multiple industries, companies leading the charge are under an enormous amount of pressure to be transparent about what actions they are taking.
Consumers committed to change are demanding the same from companies, and they are becoming more vocal about their lack of trust in companies’ sustainability claims. A survey by Genomatica showed that nearly 9 in 10 consumers (88%) don’t immediately trust brands that say they’re sustainable.
The Bank of America labeled Gen Z (born between 1995 and 2010) as the most disruptive generation of our time. Thanks to the internet and social media, these digital natives are tech-savvy and customarily make informed purchasing decisions. Their ability to connect, convene, and create disruptions through their keyboards and smartphones has the potential for global impact. These are the generations that are questioning authority and compelling real change.
The Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and GenZ survey showed that millennials and GenZ, as consumers, often put their wallets where their values are. They support companies based on how they treat the environment, protect consumer data, and position themselves on social and political issues. Bank of America also predicts that Gen Z’s income will surpass that of Millenials, and younger generations are focused more on sustainable shopping than on buying from popular companies.
In the business world, the consumer is king, and businesses are making moves toward sustainability to gain favor with customers. However, many companies are putting up a facade rather than doing real good. The act of exaggerating a company’s environmental credentials is known as greenwashing. Even large companies like Coca-Cola, Nestle, and H&M have been criticized for waste generation and pollution while claiming to commit to the climate cause.
A McKinsey report found that Gen Z values authenticity and ethical consumption practices. This gives companies a financial incentive to appear more socially conscious, which can lead to greenwashing. For example, a company in Australia marketed disposable diapers and diaper disposal bags as “100% biodegradable” while they contained plastic components that only broke down into smaller pieces. The company was ordered to publish a corrective advertisement and establish a trade practices compliance program by the ACCC (Australian Competition & Consumer Commission).
Make a Difference by Investing in Waste Diversion Technology
The world is becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact of our waste. To that end, more and more organizations are committing to sustainability goals for their waste management. However, traditional waste management practices can often hinder sustainability efforts, leading to contaminated recycling streams and inefficient use of resources.
Here are a few ways that companies can demonstrate their sustainability commitments by investing in waste diversion systems, technologies, and data.
Implement a waste diversion system that separates waste streams into different categories.
Adopt waste reduction strategies, for example, using reusable or compostable packaging solutions.
Tracking waste data can help companies keep a record of waste generation and diversion rates to monitor their progress toward sustainability goals.
Conduct regular waste audits to identify areas where waste can be reduced, such as through source reduction, recycling, or composting.
Engage employees and stakeholders in waste diversion efforts by providing hands-on training.
Smart waste management solutions like TrashBot help companies with waste diversion and can qualify their sustainability commitment. TrashBot is a smart bin that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to identify and sort recyclables from non-recyclables in a waste stream, and with TrashBot’s technology, it can learn and adapt to new items over time. It also comes equipped with a dashboard that shows real-time data on a facility’s waste stream and provides on-demand waste audits.
TrashBot is designed to improve recycling and composting rates through accurate sorting at the source. It can also empower a facility’s zero-waste vision.
Technologies like TrashBot are an excellent waste management solution for brands and companies that want to demonstrate their sustainability commitment. Not only does it help improve recycling rates, but companies can collect data from the waste stream and track their progress. This data-driven approach to smart waste management can bolster a company’s sustainability position and show the public concrete impact to back up stated promises.
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