AI and the Future of Waste Management

Sustainability Problem: Waste

The EPA estimated that Americans produced more than 254 million tons of waste in just 2013 alone.  Our current solutions in tackling this problem have been lackluster to say the least.  We either dump this waste into our 2000 active landfills, ship it to China, or the best option thus far…we recycle.  While recycling is a huge player in curbing landfill waste (87 million tons diverted in 2013), it’s important to note that it is a business.  If operating costs are too high for waste management companies, then the financial incentive to keep running these facilities drops, putting us right back to our dirty, rotten, methane producing square one.

Sustainability Technology: Artificial Intelligence Waste Sorter (ZenRobotics)

The only way to increase efficiency within the recycling facilities is to take advantage of smart technology, which means we need robots.  And not just any old robots, but ones that utilize artificial intelligence to sort through the variety of waste we produce.

The ZenRobotics Recycler is the world’s first AI powered robotics waste sorting system.  The beauty of this technology is that it’s faster, more flexible, and thus cost-efficient.  The machine has two arms (more can be added) and can pick up 4,000 pieces of waste per hour.  It works around the clock and provides 98% accuracy in sorting which makes it more reliable than its human colleague.

It can accomplish such a gargantuan task thanks to accurate sensors and smart software.  These two characteristics bring tremendous flexibility to the machine, allowing it to sort through various shapes/size, metals, different types of woods/minerals, plastics, and cardboard.  Additionally, it can be trained to identify new types of waste which is a huge plus especially when the market demand for certain materials is high.

Expenses are mitigated since the machine requires less energy, low levels of pre-processing, and little maintenance to function.  Labor, incineration, and landfill costs also drop, allowing the company to earn more profits which can be funneled into additional effective/efficient investments.  It also comes with measuring and monitoring capabilities which give companies the ability control and optimize their production.  Finally, since this innovation is scalable, it’s possible to install the machine closer to the source, reducing transportation time and costs.

Another plus is that due to its single-stream process, city residents will no longer need to pre-sort their recyclables and cities will be able to handle the commingled trash in an easier fashion.  It’s likely that recycling participation rates will go up if less efforts are required by city residents.

“These Maps Show How Many Landfills There Are In The U.S.” Fast Company, 8/19/2016,
“Municipal Solid Waste” EPA, 3/29/2016 –
 Zenrobotics – Company website  –


  • Waste management facilities looking for cost-effective solutions
  • Cities that want to meet their eco-goals and reduce waste disposal costs
  • Large companies striving to have zero-waste production facilities
  • Consumers who want to decrease their environmental footprint

Technology Implementation & Distribution:

Bring awareness and demonstrate the technology to potential waste management companies by leveraging real use cases of ZenRobotics from around the world (Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, US).

Engage with civic officials to showcase the potential for this innovation and provide a cost-benefit analysis to depict not only the environmental advantages but also the financial benefits for their city.

Ensure that the company can meet implementation demands in a seamless fashion and keep up communication with clients so feedback is received in a timely manner, allowing for software/hardware adjustments to be made fairly quickly.

Comment on the Extinguish Fire with Low Frequency Sound Waves blog:

What a great idea!  This technology can also be used by homeowners/renters to fight small house fires before they become very destructive/uncontrollable.  Financial losses will be significantly mitigated as fires can be constrained fairly quickly.  Water damage/ water use will also decrease since the resource will no longer be the only option to combat fires.  Should this innovation prove its worth and can be successfully commercialized, there are a plethora of benefits to many different stakeholders apart from the obvious ones.

“BOSSNETT” – The Automatic Underground Waste System


1. Area of sustainability: Waste

2. About the technology

  • In our society, and especially on Manhattan, the city waste system has a massive room for improvement. Every day new waste from residents in the city fill up waste containers or bags are left lying around in the streets waiting for the garbage trucks to come and pick it up.
  • Garbage trucks have to maneuver through narrow streets while the streets are smelly and rats have a field day eating all the discarded food. What if the issues of garbage trucks, smelly waste in the streets, and rats could be removed just by using modern technology?
  • This is what the government owned garbage company BIR in Bergen, Norway has found a suitable solution to. Bergen is a city with narrow streets and garbage was known to be overflowing the few waste containers there was in the streets and it was not a pretty sight. The new technology, named “Bossnett”, lets residents throw their trash into garbage tubes all around the city, where the trash drops into an underground pipe system and is vacuumed into a greater storage unit in the outskirts of the city which is regularly emptied. No need for garbage trucks driving around in the city, no smelly trash along the pathways, and rats have to go elsewhere to find their meal for the day. In addition, it will make it easier for people to recycle using the different tubes. This could be a good solution for many cities in the world.

bir bossnett

3. Stakeholders in the new technology

  • The main users of the trash network, i.e. the residents of the city.
  • The management of the garbage facility
  • Manufacturers of the pipe network
  • Manufacturers of the above-ground tubes


4. Deployment

  • Market the new technology to the population as something positive and make the residents excited to use it.
  • Creating enough garbage tubes around the city to make it easy for everyone to dispose of their trash.
  • Implement a simple and sustainable recycling plan, so that every part of the waste that can be reused will be reused.


Main article:

“NYC, check out a Norwegian solution to waste disposal”, Terje Strøm, March 31st 2016, Retrieved Sept. 20th 2017 from:

Supporting articles:

“BOSSNETT”, Bergen Automatic Underground Waste System:

Envac Automated Waste Collection Secures National Energy Globe Award for Bergen:

Image sources:

Click to access Bergen_Waste_system.pdf

UNI: ms5584


Edit: Sept. 28th 2017 as instructed by the professor, this is the comment I posted on this blogpost on Sept 21st.

“This is a great idea. A problem in many big cities are that they are not able to maintain and repair the lights that go out fast enough. And many areas are left dark in the night over a long period of time. This can be unsafe for pedestrians, and having a more illuminated street also helps with the feeling of safety. This is also a positive side effect with this technology.”

Composting with Style

Sustainability Problem: Food Waste

The US discards ~40% of its food supply every year!  While this is a clear waste of money, natural resources (water, energy, land) and time, there is another detrimental consequence to this issue.  The thrown-out organic waste eventually ends up in landfills where toxic methane gas (CH4) is released as the food breaks down among non-biodegradable trash, adding to global warming crisis.

Sustainability Technology: Whirlpool’s Zera Food Recycler – Quicker & Convenient Composting

Whirlpool has developed a unique appliance called the Zera Food Recycler, which is basically a modern composting machine.  It has the capability to process 8 lbs. of food/food scraps into 2 lbs. of fertilizer within just 24 hours.

Zera uses a rotating, cylindrical blade which breaks the food down bringing forth valuable nutrients for plat growth, its heating and drying functions help remove access moisture, and coconut husks and baking soda are used at the end to thicken the mixture while also reducing the acidity of the end-product.

The homemade fertilizer can be used in home gardens and/or collected by the city/communities to distribute to local farms/city parks/gardens etc.  A point of note is that while the fertilizer is not 100% compost material, it finishes up the composting process after spending 3-4 weeks outside.

The beauty of this appliance is that many issues with traditional composting (i.e. processing time, sorting organic material, and more importantly odors) are virtually non-existent.  It can accommodate ~95% of all organic food waste including meat.  And most importantly it provides the convenience of not having to collect and store organic waste, which is a huge positive factor in convincing consumers to close the food loop.

“Whirlpool wants you to trash your old composting methods and buy a fancy food recycler” Popular Science, 3/6/2017, Eleanor Cummins
“This new gadget promises to transform food scraps into fertilizer in 24 hours” Treehugger, 11/16/2016, Derek Markham 
“A NEW NRDC REPORT SHOWS THAT AMERICA WASTES 40% OF ITS FOOD” Sustainable America, 10/1/2012, Nicole Rogers


  • All global/domestic consumers looking to reduce their impact on the planet
  • Gardeners and Farmers looking to increase the health of their soil
  • Civic governments looking to drastically reduce waste transportation costs
  • Communities that are strengthened through a single social/environmental goal

Technology Implementation & Distribution:

Bring awareness to the target consumers about the consequences of food waste through media and marketing outlets, showing them the importance and benefits of curbing organic refuse and closing the food loop.

Deploy the appliance in select cities/areas for consumer testing, before a full nationwide distribution is attempted (Current test cities are Chicago, Austin, and San Francisco).

Use feedback from initial customer reactions to enhance and/or customize the product for efficient household use, and ultimately reduce the purchasing cost to make it accessible to more consumers.

By: Bhoomi Shah  , Columbia UNI: brs2147


In response to Riya’s Transparent Solar Spray Transforms Windows into Watts post:

In addition to increasing the surface area for solar energy absorption, this technology also enhances the efficiency of current silicon solar panels. The film can be sprayed directly on top of an existing silicon solar cell, and since utilizes the blue and green part of the sunlight better than silicon, it theoretically improves the solar cell’s energy production by an additional 5%.


Biodegradable Eco-bags

  1. Sustainability Problem: Waste is a recurring problem that has persisted through decades of innovation towards unnatural manufacturing and processes. Delving deeper, plastic waste is a big issue because they do not degrade easily. It can take hundreds of years for plastic to break down. With an estimated worldwide consumption of 1 trillion plastic bags every year, a better solution is needed.
  2. AVANI Bio-Cassava Bag could be the solution:
    • 100% biodegradable, compostable and disposable – degrades within 90 days
    • Made from cassava starch and all-natural resins, 100% renewable – contains no conventional plastic
    • Safe for consumption – dissolves in lukewarm water
    • Can be recycled along with paper
    • Durable – look, feel and perform like plastic



Plastic you can drink: A solution for pollution? | CNN

Cassava carrier bags: Indonesian entrepreneur tackles plastic scourge


  1. Stakeholders:
    • Supermarkets, grocery shops
    • Retailers
    • Hospitality industries
    • Food & Beverage industries
    • Consumers all over the world
    • Waste Management Facilities
  2. Next steps:
    • Invest more on advertising and outreach
    • Mass production could be a significant progress
    • Innovate further by introducing new products/alternatives and concepts


By: Timothy Wiranata

Columbia UNI: tw2618

Worn Again: circular textile recycling technology for (almost) zero textile waste

1. Sustainability Problem: Textile waste

The U.S. EPA estimates that textile waste occupies nearly 5% of all landfill space.

While the EPA estimates that the textile recycling industry recycles approximately 3.8 billion pounds of post-consumer textile waste (PCTW) each year, this only accounts for approximately 15% of all PCTW, leaving 85% in our landfills.

The average US citizen throws away 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles annually.

Decomposing clothing releases methane, a harmful greenhouse gas and a significant contributor to global warming. There are dyes and chemicals in fabric and other components of clothing and shoes that can leach into the soil, contaminating both surface and groundwater.

2. Technology solution: Worn Again

Worn Again has been developing chemical recycling for over three years and through trials and lab experiments they are perfecting a process where solvents are used to selectively dissolve different types of textiles, recapturing them as a raw material, which can be used to make new clothes, thus being reintroduced into the supply chain as new. Within the Textile Sorting Project Worn Again is dedicated to achieving the shared goal of creating circular supply chains for textiles through collaboration and new technologies.

The tests for this new technology, which will be monitored by H&M and Puma, are built around separating and extracting polyester and cotton from blended fiber clothing. Another task will be to separate dyes and other particles from polyester and cellulose, which has always been a challenge when recycling. The raw materials that are recaptured can then be used to spin new fabric for clothes. This circular process will have an extremely positive effect on bringing down the need for virgin resources and as such reduces carbon emissions, as well as the use of toxic pesticides, chemical fertilizers or exhaustion of land for growing crops.

Worn Again isn’t the first to develop a textile-to-textile technology. In 2014, Swedish scientists developed a process to recycle cotton by shredding clothes to pulp and turning the substance into threads of viscose. The company responsible for making the pulp is now preparing its first fabric-recycling factory and teaming up with several entrepreneurs in the textile industry.

The stakeholders

  • The product developer (Worn Again)
  • The subsidizing companies (H&M, Puma)
  • Local governments / NGOs to foster usage of this product


  • The team is currently engaged in full time development of a circular recycling technology for the textile and clothing industry, working closely with its’ development partners, H&M and Kering Group’s Sports & Lifestyle brand Puma.
  • H&M and Puma have enough infrastructure to deploy the product worldwide with a strong marketing campaign. However, costs should be mitigated in order to make the products accessible and the process economically viable.
  • Consequently, support from NGOs and local governments is key to allow tax reduction on recycled clothing and recycling plant set-up in order to lower costs as present them as feasible alternatives.


Online Body Measurements to Reduce Energy Use


Problem: Textile and Energy Waste due to Improper Body Measurements  

Online retailers use a lot of energy when it comes to shipping and reshipping items that don’t fit their customers properly or due to material quality satisfaction, and or customer’s just not liking what is sent to them. These items are returned or even thrown away by the customer, ending up in landfills- increasing textile waste.

Technology: 10 awesome innovations changing the future of fashion” by Melissa Breyer

A new technology promotes “smart” online shopping, which has the potential to reduce returned items, minimizing shipping energy and limiting waste. The companies, MyShape and Fits Me, have developed a patented technology that matches shopper with items that correspond to their personal measurements and style preferences. The latter even has a virtual fitting room with a shape-shifting robotic mannequin that mimics your personal body shape so that it can find an exact size and fit. This technology has found success at online German retailer, Quelle, which saw returns reduced by up to 28%, saving energy and money.


Smart online shopping tech engineers/designers

MyShape and Fits Me designers

Technological partners


Fashion designers

Online clothing retailers



In order to implement this technology on a large-scale, a number of investors need to be introduced

Fits Me and MyShape both appear to be European companies, and in order for it to have an even bigger impact, it must be introduced to the US market, which has a big influence in the fashion industry

Smart online shopping connects both fashion and technology. In order for this specific kind of engineering to take flight, there should be promotion and marketing geared towards students and designers who would be interested in furthering this field



Fit Origin

Zero Percent, a Food Rescue App


  • Sustainability Problem
    • Up to a third of harvested food is wasted.  This inefficiency causes higher water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions than would otherwise be necessary to feed the population.
    • In industrialized countries up to 40% of food waste happens at the consumer site when people and restaurants discard unused items from their kitchens.
    • At the same time, 1.2B people globally do not have enough food to eat.
  • Technology/Solution
    • Zero Percent is an app that allows commercial restaurants to donate their food to charities like soup kitchens and food banks.
    • Donor lists the food items available and non profits can select the products that are right for them (for example, bulk nonperishable items could be more appropriate for a food bank) and schedule a pickup
    • The restaurants are charged a fee for participating and presumably less food waste reduces the overall waste disposal costs for the restaurant.
  • Stakeholders
    • Restaurants
    • Nonprofits that serve food to low income populations
    • Non profits already in the food rescue business (ex: City Harvest)
  • Implementation Steps
    • Market to businesses with clear business case for waste cost savings
    • Partner with existing food rescue organizations
    • Invest in drafting and complying with local food safety guidelines to protect brand.
    • Aggressive targeted community outreach to build strong networks of donors and recipients in select communities.