ISWA president: Robots, driverless trucks will shape future of the industry

Dive Brief:

  • Newly-inaugurated International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) President Antonis Mavropoulos explained his vision of a "wasteless future" at a recent discussion in Washington, D.C. During the event, he noted how data and robotics have the potential to completely transform the industry.
  • Mavropoulos said the waste industry — which tends to be old-fashioned and "stuck in traditional ways" of operation — is bound to be disrupted by technology and if industry leaders don't embrace such change, it could have negative consequences and essentially "wipe out" businesses.
  • He noted that companies like Volvo are gearing up to roll out driverless garbage trucks and other various robots that can make collecting, transferring and sorting waste more efficient and advanced.

Dive Insight:

Mavropoulos' discussion on a wasteless future touched on many important topics, including the issue of global dumpsites, climate change, marine litter and the development of megacities. And while Mavropoulos exuded passion when discussing all topics, it was clear he finds the potential of a technology-driven future in the waste industry truly exciting. 

The concept of robotics is not new to industry leaders, and many sectors — especially recycling — have seen advancements in robotic technologies that can improve operations. Apple's 29-armed recycling robot Liam made headlines in March, while other inventions such as the TrashBot or ZenRobotics' AI-driven sorter have proven to be beneficial tools. However, industry leaders will need to be ready to accept change in order to truly reap the benefits of robotics, and some leaders may need to be convinced that current business operations can be improved with newer practices.

The concept of driverless trucks is one that many industries (and the general public) have been introduced to and Mavropoulos is not the first industry executive to praise the idea. Waste Management's former CIO Puneet Bhasin called the idea "fascinating" last year, noting driverless fleets could have a positive impact on fuel efficiency. Driverless trucks may also be a solution to an industrywide driver shortage and a concerning fatality rate among waste collection workers, however it is unclear if the industry is ready for such a dramatic technological development.

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Filed Under: Collections & Transfer Fleet Management
Top image credit: Kristin Musulin