Alternative material, Circular Economy, Sustainability, Recycling, Innovation

The future of (waste) material collection

24/08/2021 | 2 min read
Stephan Laske

In a live session on the second of Greiner Packaging’s virtual Innovation Days, Dr. Andreas Opelt, CMO and Member of the Executive Board at Saubermacher discussed the latest innovations in (waste) material collection, and the need for more secondary raw materials.

Innovations in (Waste) material collection

“One of the key aspects in the current regulation from the European Union is that we need to use more secondary raw materials,” said Dr Opelt. “From a waste management perspective, there are three aspects to get to more raw materials. The first is that we have to separate the waste better at the source. The second is that if we do more different sorts of waste at the source, we might think about a better way to collect the waste. And finally, of course, sorting also needs to be improved.”

“So, how can we improve separation at the source? We have carried out many different tests over the last decades, and recently developed an innovation – the recyclables scanner – for better waste separation.”

Dr. Opelt showed the current waste separation quality in the Styria region of Austria and commented that the data would be similar everywhere.

“Don’t get distressed with all these numbers,” he said. “It shows that we have different materials in our mixed residual black bin. We still have around 30% of organic material, and we also have many recyclables – also about 30% - that could be new raw materials – metal, glass, and plastics. So we have a big potential for better separation.”

Despite working on better separation of waste verticals and different information campaigns, the picture has not really changed much over the last 20 years. So we asked why.

Dr. Andreas Opelt, CMO and Member of the Executive Board at Saubermacher

"We believe that any system that provides data to enhance its performance needs regular feedback. Currently, we produce a big report roughly every five years to discover how consumers separate waste at source. The idea behind the recyclables scanner is that you can gain detailed feedback on waste separation quality every time a bin is emptied. This regular communication, and the availability of this quality data can ensure we gain a more positive effect on our behavior around waste separation.”

Dr. Opelt than described the recyclables scanner and its technologies. “We look at the waste when it is embedded in the truck,” he said. “The task of visually identifying and separating different materials is not easy for humans. We currently send waste workers around to look into bins and do a visual classification, and we sometimes ask our loaders in the back of the truck to hang a red or green card based on their visual judgment of waste separation. An assessment of that method showed the error between these experts is more than 50%, because if we have to do this classification very fast, we are very subjective in our judgment.

“With the recyclables scanner, we achieve between 5% to 15% error rate which is considerably better than humans. We use all the latest technology – AI (artificial intelligence) is heavily trained to detect recyclables and mis-throws and steadily improves. With this technology, we can automatically get a data point for each bin. This is not just interesting for mixed residual waste, but we also don't want to have packaging and other waste types in our organic waste.”

Smart collection

Dr. Opelt then showed the typical data recyclables scanner could generate, including a map showing the status of each bin. He showed that analysis of the results could result in creating communication tools, and smart collection. “Technology provides us with the tools to achieve better separation. If you do more separation, you can think about increasing the amount of different types of waste you collect, but also about a more efficient collection strategy. Data analysis from a test involving filling-level sensors provided the opportunity to focus on collecting only full bins rather than emptying them all, even bins that are not very full. The next step was to use this data to generate automated optimized collection routes.

“We have the view at Saubermacher that this is really changing everything, because it gives the potential for new business models. One of the big business models that we launched over the last couple of years is, which creates automatic routing with different waste partners for construction waste, and for some other waste types. It is now the leading platform and the new competitor to the existing waste management companies in Austria and Germany.

While it shows the potential of new offers that industries can think about around materials, and secondary raw materials, it also enables the proper sorting the waste streams.”

Dr. Andreas Opelt, CMO and Member of the Executive Board at Saubermacher

“When you look at this topic from a holistic perspective, I will say that innovation in waste material collection has just started. We have been working on this topic for a couple of years, and there is a lot more to come. I think it will really change the view that we have of our traditional processes.”


Watch the full live session here!

Please note: In order to watch the live session you need to login (and register) first; registration is still possible, even though the event is over.

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