The European Union's (EU) approach to waste management is based on three principles: waste prevention, reuse and recycling, and improving final disposal and monitoring. In 2010, the total generation of waste from economic activities and households in the EU amounted to 2.570 million tonnes, which equates to 5.1 tonnes of waste per person.
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As we come to realise our impact on the environment and the severity of our actions, more and more stringent environmental requirements, norms and laws are enforced. This means industry needs to come up with ever more innovative solutions in all sectors of their work, from transport to waste management, construction to IT solutions.
The EU-funded project BURBA (Bottom-up selection, collection and management of URBAn waste) presents a new concept of waste service. It uses surveillance and feedback to create an optimised collection service, and a social game aspect to reward positive behaviour. The 3-year study is using cutting-edge low-cost RFID (radio frequency identification) and LBS (local based service) technologies for the separation and collection of waste at source. These are integrated into an intelligent waste container (IWAC) with a capacity of 1,100 litres capacity for use in densely populated areas and eventually for industrial areas.
The IWAC will be able to identify a citizen or user through a personal RFID card, to control the receptacle's lid and, therefore, to give feedback about the correct disposal by the user. From this data, the waste management team can assess the disposal correctness of individuals, groups, blocks and buildings by location and time of day. This data is sent to a control centre where all the information about all the IWACs is collected. The same information is also available to the citizens through their mobile phone and is providing support in appropriate sorting and disposal of waste.This gives a detailed profile of the collection services required by address and time. The use of waste disposal identification could also prevent illegal disposal of waste.
The integration among municipalities, citizens and the IWAC allows for incentive based programs to increase the recycling efficiency of those using the technology. The BURBA project allows for unique computing of waste sorting efforts and so develops a system that can reward positive behaviour, like discount rates on waste disposal fare and taxes.
BURBA involved 9 partners from Italy, Spain, Poland, Portugal and China. The organisations included university research for prototyping state-of-the-art equipment, and small- and medium-enterprises (SMEs) to analyse safety regulations and localisation technologies. "We chose three different-sized cities (Camogli in Italy, Santander in Spain and Rzeszow in Poland) with different habits in order to have a complete view of what should be the problem all over Europe," said Simona Bruna, coordinator of the project at D'Appolonia, the Italian company coordinating the project representing one of the industrial components of the study.
Throughout the study, researchers have produced a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), the practical scope of which is to study not only the possible benefits of improving waste truck fleet collection paths but also to ensure savings are not outweighed by production and utilisation costs of the system.
The BURBA team is on the point of finalising the first project prototypes and further testing them in the real environment. A network of IWAC facilities will be available in Italy, Poland and Spain. "The technology developed seems to be quite promising and [the users of the service] are very interested in validating it," concluded Bruna.