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Is the Science & Practice of Hazardous Waste Management Overdue for a Software Update?

October 9, 2017

As in just about every industry nowadays, so-called “smart” technologies can streamline and improve the ways that waste and recycling companies do business. But these technologies are not common among smaller waste handlers (in general) nor among hazardous waste management companies (in particular). Reasons are manifold:

First, they are generally not as cost effective as traditional landfilling, and they require significant capital outlays. So while the economic argument for them might make sense for large national or regional waste-handling companies, entry costs can be prohibitive for smaller operations, and hazardous waste removing companies tend to be of smaller size.

Also, the unique requirements of hazardous waste disposal do not lend themselves to some of the new technologies, despite their utility in the broader industry.

RFID technology

For instance, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and global positioning systems are being installed into trash bins. These signal the optimal times to have them emptied, allowing waste handling transporters to meter and differentially charge for their disposal services. In other words, the more you throw away, the more you pay.

Given that many hazardous waste streams are noncyclical or even episodic, this technology has obvious advantages for hazardous materials disposal transporters. It also has advantages for their customers, affording them better control of their costs by being able to limit or otherwise regulate waste flow; and it inherently encourages recycling over discarding.

However, hazardous waste containers are an extremely hostile environment for sensitive electronics; and even if the electronics survived, they would become themselves hazardous waste. So while the advantages of RFID are patent for hazardous waste handlers, technical challenges still abound.

Is Uber the answer? 

A technically sophisticated business model that might hold promise for hazardous waste transporters is modeled after Uber, the ride-hailing company.

Rubicon Global positions itself as a cloud-based provider of “affordable waste and recycling solutions for businesses seeking a smarter, sustainable alternative.” Its software connects waste transporting companies with waste generating businesses—purporting to smooth the entire waste-management process for both—and charging both for access to their software.

For transporters using Rubicon, truck-driver distractions are minimized; dispatchers know the locations of their trucks in real time, which of them are most busy, etc.

Meanwhile, their customers (the waste generators) get an overall view about how much waste they’re sending to landfills, especially relative to what they could otherwise recycle, how they might be able to decrease pickup frequency, and similarly useful data that allow them to control costs and maximize value.

PegEx has developed hazardous waste software to help hazardous waste management companies create and print regulatory documents, e-Manifest submission, safety and compliance management, job tracking, operations management, customer support, and sales management.

Does this sound familiar?

If the Rubicon model described above sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because the rudiments of the idea are already being successfully employed by companies such as Hazardous Waste Experts, though a large part of their brand is personal customer service via telephone (as opposed to cloud-based software).

The company is a coast-to-coast provider of hazardous waste, recycling, sustainability, and management services, which they provide by connecting their customers (waste generators) to local or regional hazardous waste transport and storage providers.

Hazardous Waste Experts also differs from Rubicon is that the former exclusively represents the interests of waste generators (in securing services from hazardous waste transport and storage providers).

In other words, Hazardous Waste Experts is “vendor neutral,” having no vested interest in steering clients toward one vendor over another, except as it has to do with historical customer service, depth of knowledge, kinds of services provided, etc.

What does the future hold?

The specialized nature of hazardous waste disposal necessarily means that the industry will be slower at adopting smart technologies than other sectors of the broader waste management industry, and likewise for using software instead of human experts to expedite hazmat removal and storage.

New technologies will be initially  “incubated” in the nonhazardous sector before they are adapted to hazardous waste management, in no small part because the consequences of missteps could have significant health, environmental, and legal ramifications.

Such a company as Hazardous Waste Experts is ideally positioned to introduce new technologies and delivery models as they become safer, more robust, and economically feasible. In the meantime, the company’s delivery model provides a proven, high-efficiency, low-involvement solution to hazardous waste handling that’s simultaneously economical.

Disposal of hazardous waste doesn’t have to be painful.