By Michael Dixon
Since the earliest days of humanity, dealing with waste has been a fundamental requirement of our existence. However our underlying and very successful technique over the eons has been straight forward: take it away from here and bury it somewhere else.
While that remains the dominant practice throughout the world today, some cities have sophisticated the technique so the approach is now: burn what we can, and take the rest away from here and bury it. But times are changing. While sustainability has become a powerful force in modern societies, everybody now readily understands that burying waste is just such, well, a waste.
As a result, scientists, entrepreneurs and astute financiers are bringing eagle-eyed expertise to the myriad materials of which a city’s waste is composed. When streamed in carefully planned ways, opportunity is crystallizing like never before.
That’s not to say that sorting our waste into innovative processing that generates cash is not devilishly difficult, it is. Nor is it to say that the underpinning business cases that justify new jobs, investment and production are not just as complex. They are. And while there are many variables to consider, there is one immutable fact and that is that there is a never-ending supply of raw material coming.
And of course, information is playing an increasingly crucial role in this new business. The era of fact based management which depends on unprecedented analysis of gargantuan piles of data applies just as forcefully to emerging trends in waste management as it does in other sectors leading in our cities, like transport, water, energy, health and education.
But for waste management, analysis is now being undertaken through a lens not previously considered in society: garbage as potential value.
As in other sectors, instrumentation, connected data and sophisticated analytics underpin the process, process control, production and distribution of managed garbage and treatment. IBM is already engaging with exciting new entrants in this emerging industry by providing capabilities including work and asset management, operations control and mobility access from a cloud platform.
It looks as though Doc, in the movie, Back To the Future, may have been right all those years ago when he raided Marty McFlys’ garbage and exclaimed: “I need fuel!”