The September 2018 report from the European Commission on the implementation of EU waste legislation, provides an early warning that many member states are at risk of missing the 2020 preparation for reuse/recycling target on municipal waste. This report states that “In 2016, Europeans generated on average 480 kg of municipal waste per person, 46% of which was recycled or composted, while a quarter was landfilled. Municipal waste represents only around 10% of the total waste generated in the EU, but it is one of the most complex streams to manage due to its diverse composition, its large amount of producers and fragmentation of responsibilities.” – we are therefore confronted with a major social problem.
Legal obligations on the management of municipal waste (from households and similar) are laid down in the Waste Framework Directive. These obligations include a 50% municipal waste preparing for reuse/recycling target to be achieved by 2020. The Directive was recently revised to include new and more ambitious targets: 55% to be achieved by 2025, 60% by 2030 and 65% by 2035. The revised Directive also introduces a system of early warning reports to assess Member States’ progress towards these targets three years ahead of the
Scenario modelling performed for this exercise confirmed this and concluded that if no additional policy action is taken, some of the Member States concerned would probably not even meet the 50% target by 2025.
In addition to the difficulty in meeting these targets, there is a need to process the wastes locally, as while waste has historically been cost-effectively transported long distances for disposition, one of the most common pathways (transport to Asia) has been halted as China and other countries have enacted policies with strict material purity constraints (99+%) on imported wastes. Since waste cannot typically meet these constraints, these policies are a game changer, and they have globally disrupted waste material markets, causing the value of recyclables to plummet.
Thus, a final driver for this project is the need to find a solution to this market problem in a timely fashion. It is the “shock” to the system that arguably the system has needed for years. The question is how can we provide the right incentives to waste management utilities and to citizens to respond to this new reality? For example, currently many places in the US are quickly revising their recycling collection programs (and contracts) to deal with this problem.
It is therefore evident that there is urgency in the development of new waste management practices supported by new schemes that may change the citizen behavior in waste separation and production. This requires a holistic approach to MSW management by improving waste collection logistics and customizing waste treatment and valorization technologies, as well as to provide financial incentives for waste management utilities to achieve their reuse/recycling targets and for the citizen to reduce waste production and promote the separation of waste streams, ultimately to contribute to a circular economy. This constitutes the motivation for this project.
It is, in this context, relevant to provide the pioneer example of the Portuguese Plan for Municipal Solid Waste Management, PERSU 2020, which was developed by a team coordinated by Paulo Ferrão and including António Lorena, proponents of this project, to better understand the need for action.
PERSU 2020 organizes the MSW management system in Portugal in 23 Regional Waste Management Utilities (RWMU), which are characterized by a marked discrepancy in the area and population covered and also in the socioeconomic conditions of the population they serve, which are reflected in the approach to collection and treatment of MSW and also in the network of equipment and infrastructures used for the management of waste and waste streams.
PERSU 2020 establishes as its first principle full compliance with national legislation and the European targets established for Portugal and It is assumed that there is no single technological option that can respond to the multiple challenges of the sector and that is appropriate to all MSW management systems, since the context underlying each of them is varied (quantities of waste management, composition, infrastructures, prospects for future developments, etc.). In this way, for the sake of environmental and economic efficiency, it is considered that the technological choices that allow the achievement of the objectives and goals of the Plan should be taken at a level of detailed planning of the responsibility of the RWMU themselves.
In this context, PERSU 2020 promoted a major innovation in Portugal, which consisted in the definition of individual targets by RWMU, and also considering that the use of existing or future infrastructure will follow the principles of self-sufficiency and proximity, that is, the management of urban waste must be carried out preferably in their territory and according to proximity criteria.
After a few years of implementation, it can be concluded that some of the RWMU have achieved and excelled their targets and others did not, but there were no mechanisms available, either to help them engaging the individual citizen in new practices that will help the region doing better, nor to promote any compensation between RWMU that did not perform to those that performed, as for example a “recycling targets market” very much like the carbon credits for energy systems.
It is therefore the time of science, technology, sensors, data analytics, blockchain, implemented in innovative IT products to help shaping the waste industry of the future, and this project brings highly experienced research centers in this topic, from Portugal and at CMU, and a consulting company on waste management, under the leadership of a leading IT company with innovative applications in Waste management, to design and engineer the new generation of data driven waste management solutions for local implementation and global impact.
This is the time for waste management to follow the footsteps of the energy revolution in the last decades, and several tools that have been developed for energy will be adapted and improved within the scope of this project. This is particularly relevant as Europe is prepared to invest in circular economy, with demanding targets on the horizon, requiring countries and regions to find new solutions for waste management, outside the current paradigm.
Waste management constitutes a very complex social problem, which requires the design of engineering solutions based on large amounts of data in multidisciplinary areas that includes human behavior in waste generation, logistics and new waste processing technologies that may contribute to promote circular economy in time (managing the production and supply in real time), space (from the neighborhood, the regional, the national to the international levels), always guaranteeing minimum environmental impacts and operation costs.
This requires an unprecedented level of data science for waste management. It is the time for Waste Management to be revolutionized as the energy sector was 20 years ago. From large to small-scale, from central to decentralized, from environmental impact minimization to maximizing value added.