Role of emerging technologies in sustainable waste management agenda

Technology has a key role in waste management in the 21st century. AI, robotics and other kinds of technologies can make waste management easier, efficient and accurate. PHOTO/Ethical Choice.
Technology has a key role in waste management in the 21st century. AI, robotics and other kinds of technologies can make waste management easier, efficient and accurate. PHOTO/Ethical Choice.
  • Technology, if well leveraged, can help humanity in waste reduction.
  • Sensors, drones, and satellites can be used to make sustainable waste management easy and manageable.
  • AI can monitor waste management practices and report on key metrics.

Technology defines the 21st century.

Generally it can be argued that the various technology modes are meant to make life easier. 

Technology has witnessed impressive evolution in the past few decades, which has in turn transformed our lives and helped us evolve with it. 

Right from roadways, railways, and aircraft for seamless travel to making communication effortless from any part of the world, technology has contributed more than anything to help mankind live a life of luxury and convenience. 

It is also because of technology that we know our world and outer space better. 

Every field owes its advancement to technology, which clearly indicates technology’s importance in every aspect of our lives.

Put differently, technology affects almost every aspect of 21st-century life, from transport efficiency and safety to access to food and healthcare, socialization, and productivity. 

The power of the internet has enabled global communities to form, and ideas and resources to be shared more easily. 

This article seeks to interrogate the role that emerging technologies can help in sustainable waste management. 

Tech and waste management

Emerging technologies play a crucial role in sustainable waste management. 

As the world population grows, waste management becomes increasingly important to ensure a sustainable future. 

Here are some ways emerging technologies can help: 

Technology, if well leveraged, can help humanity in waste reduction.

Emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and Robotics can help reduce waste by optimizing manufacturing processes, reducing packaging material, and improving the durability of products. 

AI can help businesses optimize their supply chains, while IoT can help monitor waste levels and reduce overproduction. 

Robotics can assist in sorting and recycling waste, reducing the need for human intervention.

Put differently, emerging technologies can help reduce waste generation by promoting a circular economy focusing on reuse, recycling, and recovery. 

For example, 3D printing can help create products with less waste, and blockchain technology can enable the tracking and tracing of materials to ensure their proper disposal.

Also, technologies like Optical Sorting, Magnetic Separation, and Eddy Current Separation help in the efficient recycling of waste materials.

Optical Sorting is used to separate materials based on their color, size, and shape, while Magnetic Separation separates ferrous and non-ferrous materials. 

An optical sorting chamber in a recycling factory. PHOTO/Waste Today.

Eddy Current Separation separates aluminum (light metal) from other metals. These technologies help in the efficient separation of waste materials, which can be recycled and reused.

Additionally, Smart waste management systems can help optimize waste collection and disposal. 

These systems use sensors and IoT devices to monitor waste levels and optimize collection schedules. 

They also provide real-time data on waste levels and collection schedules, which can help in reducing collection costs and increasing efficiency.

Advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and computer vision can help sort and segregate waste more efficiently and accurately, leading to better recycling and waste diversion rates.

Real-time monitoring of waste streams can help identify opportunities for waste reduction, improve waste management practices, and reduce the environmental impact of waste disposal. 

Sensors, drones, and satellites can be used for this purpose.

As well, technologies like Waste-to-Energy and Anaerobic Digestion can help recover energy from waste. Waste-to-Energy involves converting waste into energy through combustion, gasification, or pyrolysis.

Anaerobic Digestion involves breaking down organic waste into biogas and compost. Both these technologies help reduce landfill waste and provide a source of renewable energy.

AI can monitor waste management practices and report on key metrics such as waste diversion rates, recycling rates, and carbon emissions. 

This helps in identifying areas for improvement and tracking progress toward sustainability goals.

AI can help identify potential uses for waste materials, such as converting plastic waste into fuel or creating new products from recycled material. 

AI can predict equipment failures and schedule maintenance in advance, reducing downtime and prolonging the life of equipment used in waste management.

Robotics can be used to maintain waste management equipment, such as sorting machines and conveyor belts, reducing downtime and improving efficiency. 

Robotics can be used to automate recycling processes, such as shredding, grinding, and melting. 

This can help in creating high-quality recyclable materials and reducing waste. Robots can be used to collect waste in areas that are difficult to access, such as underground or confined spaces. 

They can also assist with collecting hazardous waste and reduce the risk of injuries to workers.

Bioplastics are a type of plastic made from renewable resources, such as cornstarch, sugarcane, or cellulose. 

They can help in reducing the environmental impact of plastic waste and promoting a circular economy. 

3D printing can be used to create products with less waste and enable more efficient use of resources. It can help in reducing waste generation and promoting a circular economy.

Plasma gasification is an emerging technology that can convert waste into energy by using high-temperature plasma to break down waste molecules. 

A 3D Printing machine. PHOTO/CNET.

This technology can help in reducing landfill waste and producing clean energy.

Expressed differently, plasma gasification is a waste treatment technology that uses a high-temperature plasma arc to convert waste materials into a gas or syngas. 

The process involves exposing waste materials to a high-temperature plasma arc, which can reach temperatures of up to 10,000 °F (approx. 5,500 °C). 

This high temperature causes the waste materials to break down into their constituent molecules, which can then be used to produce syngas.

The syngas produced by plasma gasification can be used for several purposes, such as generating electricity, producing fuels, or as a feedstock for chemical processes. 

The process also produces a small amount of solid waste, which is inert and can be safely disposed of in a landfill.

Plasma gasification has several advantages over traditional waste treatment methods, such as incineration and landfilling. 

It produces less greenhouse gas emissions, requires less land space, and produces a smaller volume of waste. 

Additionally, it can also help in reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfills, promoting a circular economy.

Despite the potential benefits, plasma gasification is still an emerging technology and is not yet widely used. 

The high cost of building and operating plasma gasification facilities is one of the main barriers to its widespread adoption. 

However, with further research and development, plasma gasification could become a valuable tool in sustainable waste management.

Blockchain technology can help in creating a transparent and secure tracking system for waste management. 

It can help in tracking waste streams, identifying waste sources, and monitoring recycling processes, enabling better waste management practices.

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Overall, emerging technologies offer a wide range of solutions that can help address the challenges of sustainable waste management, and their development and deployment should be a key priority for policymakers, waste management professionals, and technology companies alike.

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Mr. Odhiambo is a law student at the University of Nairobi, Parklands Campus. His contact:


  1. If put into use, technology would bring relief to even the choking overpopulated cities. This is well put and should be embraced.
    Wonderfully articulated!


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