What are the major challenges in city waste collection?
With the ever-growing pace of urbanisation, the amount of waste that municipalities must treat is also constantly increasing. In most cities, waste management is an obvious and visible problem, and we now see more and more proactive measures being taken to tackle this challenge. Furthermore, while the Covid-19 pandemic put a major strain on health systems worldwide, waste management grew to be of utmost importance in order to mitigate the risk and curb the spread of the virus.
At the moment, cities face three main challenges in regard to the growing volume of waste: Meeting the ever-greater demand for clean streets in order to protect the quality of life of inhabitants and increase their attractiveness; Reducing their environmental footprint by implementing solutions to limit CO2 emissions; Modernising waste collection practices to ensure the safety of operators.
Confronted with having to deal with these challenges, it is essential to develop innovative and environmentally friendly solutions to ensure efficient waste collection whilst preserving people’s quality of life. Veolia designs and implements advanced collection solutions tailored to these challenges, type of housing and lifestyles observed in each of the cities in which it operates.
Have the waste collection processes improved over time? If yes, in what ways, or what areas has there been an improvement?
As the concern over landfill sites and the excess of plastic found in our oceans has increased exponentially, so has the urgency to incorporate waste management and recycling in our day-to-day lives. At Veolia, our two main drivers for innovation are:
Bringing more safety and reducing nuisances in the neighbourhood: Veolia has deployed a new collection equipment using a lateral grip mechanism. With the help of a joystick and cameras in the cab, the waste collection truck driver quickly and safely lifts the bin, empties it in under a minute (as compared to 3 minutes for a truck fitted with a crane mechanism). The company deployed Paris’ first underground pneumatic collection network in the eco-district of Batignolles. Terminals at the foot of the buildings suck up the bin bags left there by residents. A network of underground pneumatic ducts then routes them to an automated compaction terminal which makes it easier to sort out with no trucks, a cleaner urban environment as well as lesser urban pollution which are the main benefits offered by this solution.
Increasing efficiency and reducing carbon footprint: To adapt to the local specificities of the Ile de France area, Veolia has designed a fully customised collection scheme including fleet modernisation, IoT and artificial intelligence for routing optimisation to collect higher volumes of packaging and household waste than with the original fleet. The company’s fleet with lateral grip mechanism and waste compactor helps increase the amount of waste collected per truck. Sensors placed directly on the skips emit a signal based on how full they are making it possible to optimise the following day’s rounds. Additionally, to reduce the carbon footprint, it has introduced the use of renewable energy in several contracts and algorithms to optimise collection routes. The drivers have been trained on eco-friendly driving behaviour with a significant impact on fuel consumption and our collection fleet is continuously renewed.
How much of the waste collected is actually recycled and what are the concerns in this regard?
High-income Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait are counted as the world’s largest waste producers in terms of per capita waste generation which is estimated to be more than 2kg per day in some countries. Today, the region has crossed 150 million tons per year, which has forced policymakers and urban planners to focus on sustainable waste management solutions, including recycling and waste-to-energy.
With an aim to harness the potential of technological innovations to fast-track the circular economy, the UAE government launched the “Scale 360” initiative in collaboration with the World Economic Forum (WEF). Scale 360 presents the UAE with the opportunity to catalyse global change by showcasing a progressive approach to attracting talent and implementing best practices, as everyone works together towards a common goal. In the GCC alone, the circular economy is set to save 138 billion dollars by 2030 which makes it essential now more than ever to conserve resources, reduce consumption of non-degradable products, produce environmentally friendly products, recycle and up-cycle.
Furthermore, as per a recent statement of Abu Dhabi Government, locally, the UAE has set targets to divert from landfill 75 percent of municipal solid waste by 2025 and 85 percent by 2035, as well as reducing municipal solid waste generation to 1.4kg per person per day by 2025.
To achieve both economic growth and sustainable development in the Middle East, it is important to inculcate a recycling culture which can be achieved by tackling the biggest challenges of segregating waste at source and changing from the make- use- dispose linear model towards a more circular economy. Committed towards improving sustainable development across the Middle East, Veolia plays an active role in raising awareness on the environmental challenges, such as the need to decrease the amount of waste generated, by spreading the recycling reflex.
Initiatives can be taken to help citizens reduce waste and encourage them to segregate waste to ease recycling. To support this approach, Veolia has launched in Abu Dhabi the UAE’s first free-of-charge digital service to collect recyclables and to incentivise responsible behaviour, called RECAPP, which offers an on-demand, door-to-door collection service for recyclable material such as plastic bottles and aluminium cans.
Have you introduced new systems like sensor technologies in waste collection and in what way has it helped improve the operations?
At Veolia we believe that smart services are revolutionising city management and making urban services more advanced and efficient. To support local authorities and companies in their digital transformation, we design smart waste collection solutions. Smart waste management is now a priority for many municipalities as it helps to redesign the way urban spaces are used and brings together all the city stakeholders around a more open and integrated model of governance. Veolia has developed smart solutions capable of improving waste flow control and empowering citizens and businesses to recover more and reduce the problems it creates. We have developed solutions based on a network of sensors that acts as fill gauges and identification chips, installed on the containers. The remote processing of all data gathered by the information system optimises waste collection rounds and flows. It also gives those involved (collection operator and local policymakers) the possibility of anticipating new economic models, including individual incentive pricing that benefits all the parties concerned and users in particular.
Furthermore, there are many benefits for customers. On one hand, the traceability of the flow increases trust between customers and operators, thus generating shared financial benefits; and on the other hand, this sustainable approach, based on a thorough analysis of territories and an extensive social dialogue, helps to optimise sorting practices, particularly among the public, and reduce the volume of waste overall.
Has here been a change in the way waste is being collected/handled following the onset of Covid-19?
To guarantee the continuing delivery of essential services for our customers and communities, Veolia has activated a business continuity plan organising services and teams to meet the changing environment. Step 1 is to implement measures to reduce the risk of employees being exposed to the virus and step 2 is reorganising our teams to ensure the continuity of essential services.
Our main goal throughout the crisis has been to: Protect the health and safety of our employees, customers and communities in which we operate; Provide a safe work environment for all; Ensure business continuity services for our customers; Work with local authorities to ensure we are compliant and managing risk; Clear communication with both internal and external audiences. Additionally, thanks to digital technology, most employees were working remotely where possible. Whereas on field, staff were working on rotational basis to avoid crowding and to maintain social distancing.
With regard to the collections, while the group already had regular disinfection of all vehicles and facilities to comply with the hygiene and barrier measures, and with the occupational risk prevention measures, our team took special precautions. The dedication of our employees throughout has been exemplary. At this time, our mission is even more important, because expectations are elevated.
Will these procedures be continued in the future as well?
Maintaining public health and safety are key priorities at any given time. However, during a crisis, the need to protect and safeguard is ten-fold. While countries put a restriction on movement to subdue the virus, companies began to mitigate the impact by thinking on their feet, which gave rise to many new opportunities. Innovations and revolutions are a huge part of these changes. This has led to higher quality of services and has in turn ensured cost-effectiveness. We believe that these efforts would definitely be continued in future as well.
In your view, what can be done by waste collectors to improve the process for better results?
The circular economy is an inspiring concept that is gaining tremendous traction worldwide. It is concerned with keeping the value of the resources high through proper utilisation and longer extension to the product lifecycle. In the UAE, strong efforts are being made to build a circular economy through various initiatives such as the Scale 360 and UAE Vision 2021 that aims to reduce the amount of waste currently going to landfills by 75 percent. To keep the momentum of a circular economy and reduce waste, which will benefit the environment and maintain public safety, waste collectors need to: Adapt all offers to the concerned territory and bear in mind the customer needs; Build an integrated ecosystem for a more resilient and circular economy; Partnership is key to success and to close the loop of recyclable materials; Better integrate safety procedures in operational routines, especially for industrial waste management; Optimise logistic flows and always dare to propose innovative business models.