How IoT Enabled Smart City Helps Tackle the Problem of Solid Waste Management in India

In an exclusive interaction with Dataquest, R. Venkateswaran, Senior VP IoT, Persistent Systems, talks about solid waste management and how IoT enabled Smart Cities can help tackle this problem of Solid Waste Management in India. He also talks about the challenges in the implementation of smart solid waste management systems. Excerpts:

Q. Where do you think the current problem of solid waste management lies?

A comprehensive solution to Solid Waste Management (SWM) spans across five key areas in the SWM lifecycle, namely, Generation, Collection, Transportation, Treatment and Disposal. Today, in India, we have challenges across each of these areas that need to be overcome to create a viable Solid Waste Management solution.

Some of the challenges include segregation of waste at the time of generation, shortage of sufficient manpower and garbage vans for collection, tracking and monitoring of waste transportation to enable cross-verification and transparency, proper treatment of bio-degradable and recyclable material and lastly, environmentally safe and hygienic waste disposal mechanism.

With a 48% growth in urban population in India from 29 crores in 2000 to 43 crores in 2015, there has been a corresponding significant increase in the amount of waste generated (approximately 2.5 times or 150%). Further, the segregation of waste (for example, “dry” vs “wet” garbage) has not been consistently effective due to lack of awareness and inability to enforce segregation.

Shortage of manpower and garbage vans is also a key challenge for collection and transportation. Municipal bodies typically outsource this activity to contractors but do not have the necessary systems in place to effectively track and monitor the services rendered by these contractors. Citizens add to this challenge of effective collection by disposing off their garbage outside the designated bins. Waste processing and treatment has a strong dependence on segregation of waste into multiple categories (bio-degradable, recycling, bio-hazard etc.). The final disposal of waste is also a big challenge given the lack of planning of land-fill sites. Originally, these sites were ear-marked away from the cities to minimize harmful effects to inhabitants. However, with the expansion of cities, these sites now fall within city perimeters, thereby, exposing the residents to health hazards and other environmental issues.

Q. How can an IoT enabled Smart City to help tackle the problem of Solid Waste Management in India?

Deploying IoT and related technologies can address some of the predominant challenges in solid waste management very effectively.

IoT-enabled waste collection and transportation can bring in significant advantages in the overall implementation of waste management solutions. Specifically, the municipal corporations that have outsourced this work to independent contractors, can use IoT technologies to track and monitor the contractors’ effectiveness. Deployment of smart bins, tracking of garbage pickup trucks as well as the sanitation workers, route optimization for trucks, cross-checking of garbage weight etc. can efficiently address the challenges of enforcement and transparency. Similarly, IoT-enabled sensors can also monitor the amount of alternate fuel generated from the processed waste. This helps the cities address some of their fuel needs and leverage the benefits of the Solid Waste Management solutions.

In the long run, IoT-enabled solutions can also help in segregating waste at the time of waste generation, thereby bringing in significant value to the rest of the lifecycle stages.

Q. Has Persistent deployed any smart waste disposal projects?

Persistent Systems has developed an IoT-enabled Solid Waste Management solution to address the collection and transportation of Solid Waste. It involves retrofitting existing garbage bins by adding connected sensors to make them “smart bins”. These sensors detect the level and weight of the garbage and transmit this information to a server deployed in the city’s Data Center through existing cellular infrastructure. These ruggedized sensors ensure that they can withstand extreme weather conditions and have a long battery life of at least 2-3 years.

Our solution uses the data from the smart bins to optimize the route, the schedule and the size of the garbage trucks for waste collection and transportation, thereby improving the fuel efficiency of the waste collection process. Tracking of the truck through geo-fencing and periodic alerts for various incidents helps the Municipal body to monitor the performance of the workers and contractors to assigned to this task. Daily, weekly and monthly reports about different aspects of the collection process help the Sanitation department head to assess and make improvements.  

We are working closely with the municipal bodies in Pune and Nagpur and are partnering with large System Integrators in responding to the Smart City initiatives to cover the Waste Management area.

Q. What challenges do you see in the implementation of smart solid waste management systems?

While there is a general awareness and pilot deployments of Smart Solid Waste Management solutions in some cities such as Bengaluru, Vijayawada, Indore, Jaipur and Pune, these deployments have limited scope and hence have not really leveraged the full value of a smart solution. My view is that the main challenges are not necessarily technology-related, but more around the process and mindset of people.

In a typical Smart city plan, Solid Waste Management is combined along with the rest of the Smart City initiatives. This results in a significant delay in decision making, thereby, slowing down the deployment of smart Solid Waste Management solutions.  These deployments can be speeded up by focused initiatives for effective Solid Waste Management. Perhaps government / civic bodies should consider decoupling various Smart City initiatives and expediting some, depending on immediate need and priority.

Further, we have observed that enforcement and implementation typically happens only for certain phases of the Solid Waste Management lifecycle, but not in its entirety. For example, a specific deployment may focus only on garbage truck tracking, but not the sanitation workers. Such deployments, while bringing in some improvements, do not realize the full potential of such a solution.

Q. How will it benefit its various stakeholders?

Various stakeholders such as municipal bodies, contractors, private waste management organizations and citizens will benefit significantly from the smart city initiatives around waste management. Specifically, the benefit will come about in terms of transparency in operations, reduced operations costs, elimination of poor practices and allocation of funds as per the needs/challenges.

Q. Can you throw some light on the growing importance of data management for smart cities?

The idea behind Smart Cities is enabling the various departments such as Sanitation, Transportation, Water Management etc to leverage technology and automation to solve their critical challenges. An immediate follow up to this initiative is the generation of significant data (preferably in real-time) centered around the key performance metrics of these departments. The insights from the data generated are key to decisions and actions that would otherwise not have been possible.

Effectively managing the data generated from the various departments and integrating them as part of the decision-making process is key to the success of the Smart City initiatives. Further, the insights derived from this data can also be made available to other departments or states to help accelerate their smart city plans. As an example, sharing of water consumption by one state/city can help other neighboring states/cities plan their water challenges effectively. This does require all departments to work collaboratively in the best interests of the citizens.

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