The Challenge of Municipal Solid Waste Management
October 2021 Panos Dimos,
IoT & Smart Cities Product Marketing Engineer, ICT Services & Solutions

Sakis Venizelos,
IoT Product Manager, Telco & Enterprise Software


Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Manage-ment is a common and challenging pain-point for Municipalities globally, especially affecting more densely populated and crowded cities. Inefficient waste management planning entails high operating costs, reduced public hygiene, environmental pollution, waste of natural resources and citizen frustration.

In recent years European legislation has imposed strict rules, goals and deadlines for member states to follow, which include high monetary penalties and sanctions for the ones that fail to meet them.

More specifically, Greece falls below the EU average in recycling, separation at the source and landfilluse targets. As a result, fines have exceeded €100 mil, with the Greek government announcing that the financial burden will soon be carried over to Municipalities. Moreover, the EU has suggested monitoring and recording of the performance of MSW management systems in order to evaluate and improve them.

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In addition, municipal authorities in Greece and abroad have begun to recognize the multifaceted benefits of optimizing waste management and promoting recycling. Citizens have also increased their awareness regarding environmental issues and they are very positive towards relevant initiatives that promote circular economy principles. In addition, surveys show that citizens would prefer to pay municipal cleanup fees depending on how much garbage they produce in comparison to a flat universal charge. Another development that is now in favor of developing such systems is the availability of reliable technology solutions (hardware and software) that can fully support complex and interactive waste management systems.

An additional factor that hinders recy-cling efforts is the recycling contamination. Quite often organic waste ends up in the recycling bins, which when mixed with recyclable materials renders their recycling impossible. Also, many citizens throw their recyclables in waste bags, making it very hard or even impossible for recycling workers to properly sort them and recycle them.

Therefore, even if a city implements a waste management strategy it will not be able to improve recycling rates and earn income by trading them. Until now, there was no technological solution that could help detect and minimize recycling contamination.

Efficient waste management is a quintessential prerequisite for protecting the environment and improving cities sustainability. A smart MSW management system aims at decreasing fuel consumption and overall CO2 emissions (fuel consumption can be reduced by 30-40% depending on the case). Also, traffic congestions are minimized due to the fact that waste collection routes are optimized and the areas that need special attention, are served with priority. With bin access control and realtime fill level alerts, waste bins overflowing will be practically eliminated, securing higher hygiene and aesthetic levels. In financial terms, the reduction in waste truck maintenance, fuel consumption and waste disposal costs, along with the increased revenues from recyclable sales, are expected to result to the reduction of waste management OPEX by 20-35%.

Market Overview of IoT Solutions for MSW Management

At present, Municipalities in Europe and Greece, depending on their readiness in adopting smart IoT systems and solu-tions can be divided into the following categories:

  1. European Municipalities that have implemented smart, IoT waste management systems, but still lack control over the quality of materials destined for recycling.
  2. European Municipalities mainly (few in Greece), that apply complex or simple recycling, incentivizing or "the polluter pays" schemes without the extensive use of IoT technologies.
  3. Municipalities involved in research / European programs that plan the promotion and implementation of Catego-ry (2) actions or the implementation of one-dimensional IoT solutions (only waste bin fill level measurements and waste pickup route optimization), with limited scope pi-lots implementation.
  4. Municipalities that have not taken any action so far due to lack of information or know-how.
Working Principle and Key Benefits of Intracom Telecom's Smart Waste Management Solution

Intracom Telecom has designed an innovative system that encompasses all the traits required to assist Municipalities in addressing the challenges of waste management. It in-cludes three different subsystems, aiming to:

  1. Reduce the total OpEx of waste management;
  2. Increase municipal revenue from recyclables sales;
  3. Protect the environment and save natural resources;
  4. Achieve recycling and landfilling objectives set by the EU and avoid relevant tariffs;
  5. Provide full oversight of the performance of waste man-agement systems and achieve efficient optimization and successful crisis management (e.g. COVID-19);
  6. Safeguard public hygiene;
  7. Rationalize municipal fees through "the polluter pays" schemes;
  8. Promote recycling and environmental awareness through incentivizing recycling schemes;
  9. Increase citizen satisfaction.
Our Approach

Each household and local business uses a personalized RFID card in order to gain access to the blue bin and dispose their recyclable waste. After the waste disposal, an AI-based camera mounted inside the bin, which is GDPR compliant, evaluates the quality of the materials.

If waste bags or any non-recyclable materials are detected the user will not get any recycling points (award) and they will be recommended to make better use of the recycling bin. Also, Municipality personnel will be informed, in order to remove any non-recyclable materials from the bin, thus avoiding recycling contamination.

In any other case, recycling points will be credited and the user will be able to utilize them in incentivizing schemes offered by the Municipality (e.g. discounts at local shops, reduction of the standard fee etc.).

Sensor System Overview

Each Municipality has a different level of familiarization with IoT systems. Also, not all waste management strategies have reached the same level of maturity; some cities are just at the beginning of their digital transformation, while others have IoT system(s) already in place.

Intracom Telecom, recognizing this diversification, has de-signed, a modular solution that can be expanded, as the needs of the customer evolve. Similarly, it can be adjusted to enhance an already deployed waste management system. The complete solution includes the following hardware:

  • A bin fill level sensor equipped with GPS, temperature and tilt sensors, capable of identifying emptying events.
  • A bin access control mechanism that allows access only to the citizens assigned to the specific bin.
  • A camera utilizing computer vision and machine learning algorithms, which helps identify potential contamination of recyclable waste (i.e. presence of waste bags or non-re-cyclable objects that prohibit recycling).

The fill level sensor and the access control module can be installed inside any bin (green, blue, brown) enabling “pay-as-you-throw” schemes. All three modules will be installed inside blue (recycling) bins to increase recycling efficiency and implement incentivizing schemes.

The above hardware is accompanied by the following software modules:

  1. Bin management and route optimization software:

    This software is powered by Intracom Telecom's uiTOP™ Smart City platform and offers all the features required to monitor and manage the Municipality's waste management infrastructure and processes. The fill level of all bins is measured constantly, while notification and alarms are raised when predefined thresholds are reached/exceeded. As far as waste collection is concerned, special zones can be created (e.g. coastalfront, shopping district, etc.) in order to prioritize areas of the city that attract more visitors and should be treated with high priority.

    Creating waste collection routes is just two-clicks away; the administrator selects the bin fill level threshold for collection and the type of waste (mixed, recyclables, biowaste) that should be collected. Then the platform automatically generates the optimized route. The route enables the collection of all waste while minimizing the distance traveled, allowing thus for less fuel and emissions.

    All waste trucks are registered in the platform, along with their characteristics. This way when a collection route is requested the platform selects the most suitable vehicle for each route (based on many factors, such as road width).

    In a nutshell, Municipality employees can identify which bins need to be emptied and which areas produce the most waste. Also, datarich visualizations in the form of maps, heatmaps and graphs provide detailed and historical data.

  2. Bin lock control software:

    This software is used to configure the access control mechanisms mounted inside the bins. It performs whitelisting/blacklisting of RFIDs that can access each specific bin. It also notifies when the lock is opened and which RFID was used.

  3. Image recognition and machine learning classifier:

    It runs on the device (MEC – Multi-access Edge Computing) and sends the classifier output along with a timestamp. Takes images of the bin's contents and decides whether the contents of the bin contain only recyclable materials or not

    Therefore, the solution can be provided as a basic offering with just the fill level sensor, or as an end-to-end complete and innovative solution that can support recycling incentives, by combining the access control mechanism and the camera.

image with explanatory info regarding smart waste bin architecture
screenshot of the desktop app
The Right Choice

Intracom Telecom's innovative Smart Waste Management system constitutes a highly customizable solution that addresses all the challenges associated with MSW management. A variety of emerging technologies have been utilized, both in terms of software and hardware, in order to provide cost optimization, data driven decision making and increased recycling performance across all vicinities, proving to be the right approach to support a holistic Waste Management Strategy.