Growing productivity has come with an increasing waste problem for manufacturing and heavy industry. The industrial sector produces more garbage than ever, and the task of disposing of it is often difficult, unsafe and inefficient. Failing to manage refuse properly can also come with significant consequences — fines, environmental damage and long-term health problems.

Internet of Things (IoT) technology, networked devices that provide remote monitoring and access capabilities, can make waste management processes safer and more efficient.

Waste management professionals and the people who support them — like logistics professionals — should know about how IoT is already being used to improve safety in waste management and disposal.

What Is Industrial Waste?

Industrial waste refers to all byproducts discarded after the completion of an industrial process. The term can include inert waste — like plastic — as well as dangerous and highly toxic substances.


There are two main categories of industrial waste

Solid waste is the most common type of industrial waste. According to the EPA, American industries generate around 7.6 billion tons of this waste annually, and almost every sector contributes solid waste in one form or another. Common types of solid waste include paper, cardboard, plastic, scrap metal and e-waste.

While solid waste may not present immediate harm to a business or its community, it can have serious long-term effects if not properly disposed of. Effective waste disposal practices can mitigate or eliminate these effects. Recycling e-waste, in particular, can help a business limit the environmental impact of its solid waste production.

Toxic waste, or hazardous waste, are materials that can cause significant health and safety problems without proper disposal. Under EPA regulations, any sufficiently ignitable, corrosive, reactive or toxic waste is considered hazardous. It may be solid or liquid — if liquid, it may also be referred to as chemical waste.

The EPA regulates toxic and hazardous waste disposal, and businesses that fail to comply with federal standards on its disposal may face fines or more serious consequences. This kind of garbage must be disposed of at specially designated facilities.

Some examples of hazardous waste include mercury, lead-acid batteries, chemical paint strippers and expired laboratory chemicals.

Various waste categories may require different handling and transportation practices. Solid waste may not require special handling but may need sorting, such as recyclable from nonrecyclable materials. Toxic and hazardous waste may require specialized equipment and trained personnel.


IoT systems can provide many benefits

IoT sensors can provide businesses with a remote waste monitoring solution. Sensors can monitor for temperature, humidity, toxic fumes and radiation, helping site managers ensure area safety for workers and visitors. If a sensor reports unsafe storage conditions, supervisors can take quick action to evacuate employees and secure the site.

Managers at businesses considered waste generators are typically familiar with waste-handling best practices like alarms and fire- or spill-control devices. IoT systems can provide similar functionality with some additional benefits, like extra information on waste storage conditions and easy access to networked safety devices.

A business may also incorporate IoT devices into waste management site equipment, providing similar information on machines’ performance. Site managers can receive instant notifications from the IoT safety system if something begins to malfunction or behave unusually.

With the addition of Internet-of-Things IP cameras, facility managers can also have a live feed of potentially dangerous areas, providing additional information on what may be causing storage issues.

Because this information is streamed to the cloud, all workers with network access can view and utilize it, whether they are on- or off-site. This data can also be stored long term, potentially improving business reporting practices or even providing the foundation for safety-optimizing machine learning algorithms.


Improving waste transportation

Data from IoT sensors may also help a business identify the optimal waste disposal method.

IoT data from internet-connected telematics systems can provide the location of all vehicles in a fleet. When waste is ready to be moved off-site, information from GPS sensors and scheduling software can allow businesses to slot waste management tasks more effectively into a driver’s schedule based on their current position or job.

IIoT devices could also make the process of transporting waste from generators to disposal facilities much safer. Sensors can provide essential data to drivers and support staff while refuse is being transported. For example, if a driver is transporting toxic or potentially harmful waste, they can use a vehicle outfitted with chemical sensors that monitor the environment for dangerous fumes.

If a container is improperly sealed or begins to leak, the chemical sensor can alert the driver, their supervisor and other team members. This allows them to take quick action while reducing the driver's exposure to toxic fumes.

Other monitoring devices, like IP cameras, temperature sensors and humidity sensors, could provide similarly useful information on the waste while it is in transit. This data would be available to drivers and administrative staff, helping both groups of workers more effectively coordinate business waste management.

Information from these sensors can also provide a top-down view of a business’s entire waste transportation operations — allowing facility managers to see at a glance the current location of all vehicles, hazardous waste and potential safety risks.


Improving driver safety

The same technology can also encourage safe driving practices. Many modern telematics platforms provide fleet managers with the sensors and software needed to detect speeding, harsh braking, aggressive driving and idling.

Managers can use this information to intervene on a driver-by-driver basis. They can target training and safety courses to improve driver behavior and reduce instances of unsafe practices across the fleet.

In municipalities where idling is regulated, this technology can also help waste management fleets comply with anti-idling ordinances, reducing the risk of fines while minimizing the fleet’s environmental impact.


Improving waste management safety

Industrial waste management can be made safer and more efficient with the right technology. Many professionals are beginning to use Internet of Things technology to streamline their processes.

Data from these devices and the remote access functions they can provide make it easier to manage waste on-site and en route to disposal.