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Meet the new wave of tech companies taking out the trash

ICE Graveyard 18/07/2016 Mark Lelinwalla

You’d be hard-pressed to meet someone who loves garbage more than Jason Gates, co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based startup Compology.

But Gates isn’t concerned with the residential trash that you put out in front of your home on collection day. Instead, he basks in the massive commercial and industrial waste heaped into dumpsters behind restaurants, offices and construction sites. The pure stench of that refuse is money to Gates’s nose.

Compology has figured out a smarter way to track, route and take out the trash. And from startups like Compology, to Tesla founder Ian Wright developing electric garbage trucks and Volvo working on a refuse-collecting robot, tech advancements in the garbage business have never been hotter. That’s because the space is an antiquated one that could use a tech boost. And since everyone has garbage, there’s money to be made.

Compology’s WasteOS system retrofits a physical sensor into the refuse bins, allowing garbage collectors to monitor the volume of waste inside their commercial and industrial containers. The company has software designed for someone in a dispatch position in charge of managing a fleet of collection trucks. It also has software for garbage truck drivers that guides them to which containers they need to tend to.

“We dynamically route the collection trucks,” Gates told me. “Instead of using a set collection schedule and picking up from the same 100 containers every Thursday, whether the containers are full or not, we’re able to build new routes for each driver in a fleet of trucks each morning based on which containers actually need to be serviced.”

Gates says taking the waste information in each bin and using it to distribute work for drivers is part of Compology’s “secret sauce.” Dispatchers from waste management companies can see the work distributed to each driver and track their progress along their routes. WasteOS can reduce the number of trucks required for service by between 40 and 50 percent, slashing companies’ operational costs.

Louie Pellegrini, owner of the Stanford-based Peninsula Sanitary Service and a third-generation garbageman, is a happy customer.

“With the large debris boxes, it has always been difficult to keep track of inventory and location because they seem to move around and disappear and each is a $3,000 – $6,000 asset,” says Pellegrini, whose company provides service for Stanford University and has 200 trucks on the road daily in the San Francisco/Bay Area. “So the ability to anticipate, in advance of the customer calling, when they’re full brings efficiency to routing and work to be done in the future.”

As aforementioned, there’s a groundswell of companies also looking for smarter ways to deal with trash. Ian Wright’s electric garbage trucks could cut fuel consumption by a whopping 70 percent. This past February, Volvo showed off its prototype for a residential trash-collecting  robot, which works in conjunction with a human refuse driver and garbage truck. That’s part of Volvo’s Robot-based Autonomous Refuse (ROAR) project — a collaboration between the automaker, Penn State, Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology and Mälardalen University, and a Swedish waste management company named Renova.

Andreas Gruson, executive chairman of Compology and waste management veteran, says the wave of technology infused in the garbage business is in the “Wild West” stage right now and is likely to keep growing from here.

“What will emerge is companies that offer waste companies the complete package,” he said, “with information you need to know, not just information for information sake.”

In other words, the opportunity for tech companies now is to put all the pieces together, in order to come up with the total garbage package that’s impossible to resist.

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