Solid Waste and Smart Cities

It’s true: the buzzwords that come with talk of “smart cities”–smart economy, mobility, environment, people, living, and governance–don’t include the word “trash.” It’s also true that solid waste management has not had a prominent place in conversations about how to build a smart city. But that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t. In fact, you could argue that there’s no single issue more central to a smart city than the question of how it manages its trash.

That’s exactly the argument that WasteZero’s Cal Cunningham made yesterday at the University of North Carolina’s Clean Tech Summit in Chapel Hill. Invited to speak on a “Smart Cities” panel, Cal made the case for the role of solid waste management–and pay-as-you-throw–in smart city planning.

Clean Tech - CalCal situated pay-as-you-throw right in the thick of the issues that the smart cities movement aims to address: it’s great for the economy and the environment; excellent for people and their quality of life; and a more efficient, less wasteful way for governments to operate. He added that because of the size and scale of the solid waste system, which every resident of every community touches, even small changes have the potential for tremendous effects.

Some highlights from the talk:

  • “We need to broaden the conversation to include one of the easiest ways to help the environment and save municipalities money: solid waste.”
  • “Throwing away more trash than we need to has tremendous social costs.”
  • “A smart city aligns its incentives to reduce the amount of trash going to the landfill and increase the amount of recycling.”
  • “Pay-as-you-throw rests on the tenets of behavioral economics, one of the most powerful forces in human history. We must meter the trash.”
  • “When we talk about smart cities, it doesn’t have to be about the gadgets, and it doesn’t have to be about technology. Pay-as-you-throw is simple, it’s real, and it’s about empowering individuals with price signals to work toward community goals.”

As Cal said, a smart city manages its trash in a smart way.

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