Reuse, Recycle, Compost: A New Level of Insight into Garbage

Big Data Evangelist, IBM

Garbage is a precious resource. About 80% of the ton of trash that the average family discards every year could be recycled into useful materials, rather than ending up as pollution that hurts our health and destroys the environment.

Global sustainability won't happen unless we optimize our local waste management processes. All of us must adopt energy efficiency, conservation, and other environmentally sound practices in our households and communities. This past Friday, June 1, IBM hosted a tweetchat on this topic, under the hashtags #zerowasteIBM and #sustainableIBM, and with the Twitter handle @SustainableIBM.

The chat was moderated by Drew Clark (@drewc), who is director of strategy for IBM's Venture Capital Group. Also participating in chat were several experts on waste management and resource recovery, as well as other IBM personnel working for a greener, smarter planet. Here are the highlights from the huge number of tweets exchanged.

Sustainability insights from professionals in waste management and resource recovery

George McGrath, COO of Recology (@mcskits), discussed that firm's work with the city of San Francisco to help achieve zero waste by 2020. Among other results, Recology has helped San Francisco use smarter computing to divert 1.1 million tons of food scraps from landfills to help grow healthy crops. Here are some of McGrath's key tweets discussing their work in San Francisco and elsewhere:

Robert Reed, Evangelist at Recology (@Waste_Zero ‏@reed_harold) discussed the importance of cities encouraging residents to compost food scraps so that they can be sent to farms as organic fertilizer, a practice known as "farm to farm"). Reed's key tweets were:

Steve O'Donnell, Chairman of Greenbang (@stephenodonnell) heads an analyst firm that focuses on smart grid, sustainable cities, transport, waste and future resource management. He discussed sustainability best practices in resource recovery, including the user of smarter computing technologies. O'Donnell's key tweets were:

  • #Smartercomputing helps SF divert 1.1 million tons of food scraps from landfills to grow healthy crops. #zerowasteIBM
  • using food scraps as compost stops us scraping the top off peat bogs around the world and messing with the ecosystem #zerowasteIBM
  • Sustainability needs active management - waste implies under-management. Managers have to work harder to b sustainable #zerowasteIBM
  • The key is being smart enough to keep the logistics costs ($ and Co2) less than the benefits. IBM nails that. #zerowasteIBM
  • Sustainability is harder for leaders and managers than allowing waste but better for stockholders and community stakeholders #zerowasteIBM
  • recycled building materials are local and maintain the character of the neighbourhood - great for everyone #zerowasteIBM
  • efficient logistics = less fuel, noise and disruption + better returns on capital from the refuse trucks #zerowasteIBM
  • Keeping logistic loops local drives out cost and time to market - real business innovation #zerowasteIBM
  • vendors are starting to create packaging that is easy to recycle or better reuse. In the tech business this works well #zerowasteIBM
  • by teaming up with competitors to scale up recycling - each can reduce costs - shared logistics reduce miles #zerowasteIBM
  • businesses and communities that can be self sufficient / lean core resource requirements have low costs and improved quality #zerowasteIBM
  • in my career at BT in the UK we reduced our operational costs dramatically by setting an 80% target in carbon emission... #zerowasteIBM
  • the sustainability mindset is lean and drives cost reduction, reduces cycle time and simplifies logistics #zerowasteIBM
  • business improves by driving complexity and dependency from the value chain. By conserving resources delivery is derisked. #zerowasteIBM

Lisa Hoyos, Strategic Field Initiatives of BlueGreen Alliance (@bgalliance), discussed the group's work on a wide range of initiatives in renewable energy, energy efficiency, safer chemicals, efficient electrical grids, and other green infrastructure. It designs public policies, performs research, and runs advocacy and public education campaigns in support of this mission. Hoyos' key tweets were:

  • The @BGAlliance is a coalition 12 unions & environmental orgs calling for good jobs, a clean environment & a green economy #zerowasteIBM
  • .@BGAlliance advocates the growth in the number and quality of American jobs by expanding the industries of the 21st century #zerowasteIBM
  • We find the biggest challenge to be a lack of a comp approach for climate change and creating jobs in the 21st century #zerowasteIBM
  • The means we miss chances to create good jobs & puts the US at risk following rather than leading the global economy #zerowasteIBM

Chris Steinkamp, head of Partnerships & Strategy at GOOD/Corps (@goodcorps), discussed how businesses can align business strategy with social impacts, especially environmental sustainability. Steinkamp's key tweets were:

  • Yes, sustainability is an evolving discussion. Innovation plays a key role. #zerowasteibm
  • Continuous business innovation with corporate responsibility profits all of humanity over the long haul. Very GOOD #zerowasteIBM
  • A company that places equal value on innovation & responsibility as profits. The three should be co-dependent. #zerowasteibm

Also participating was Will Wallak, board member at GreeningUSA (@GreeningUSA), a non-profit organization advocating sustainable communities. Wallak mentioned the stubbornness of human nature that keeps us from recognizing and adopting greener practices in our daily lives:

  • Stupidity and laziness is how we got to where we are - who ever gave us permission to destroy our planet? #zerowasteIBM
  • You would think so, but trend is for local #gov to resist #fed intervention. How to reverse #local stupidity? #zerowasteIBM

Another tweeter active on the chat was Scott Miller  @BIOblogger). He's a bioenergy marketing consultant. He discussed how sound resource recovery practices can help build sustainable supplies of biomass feedstock, biofuels, and biopower. His key tweets were:

A tweeter identified only by their handle @sensism99 had some interesting proposals:

  • I think we could reduce trash in our city streets by sheltering the homeless, and for that roof, they could pick up trash. #zerowasteibm
  • if companies gave people compost bins/tumblers that would reduce waste by a whole bunch. #zerowasteibm

IBM and partners support sustainability with smarter computing technologies

Pete Elliot of Key Info, an IBM Business Partner (@_KeyInfo), is working with Recology. See this great video on what they're doing together to help San Francisco realize its goal of "zero waste" by 2020). Here's what Elliot tweeted on last week's chat:

  • @_keyinfo_ key info supports recology's IT systems. P-series, X-series, applications. #recology #zerowasteIBM
  • Heather Achilles, IBM Researcher and Distinguished Engineer (@HAchillesAtIBM) discussed our work with diverse partners and customers in pursuit of greener, smarter planet. Her key tweets were:
  • IBM helps CA's wine country conserve H20 #zerowasteIBM
  • IBM is helping California's wine country conserve water #zerowasteIBM
  • IBM has many initiatives in smart energy & smart water to help with more efficient (as well as reduce) use #zerowasteIBM
  • Increasing recycling can also create local jobs - always a good thing #zerowasteIBM
  • By analyzing the data we find areas that need attention, put a plan in place to address, and see if we are successful #zerowasteIBM
  • how can insights from analyzing the big data we collect from the waste stream help us be more efficient #zerowasteIBM

Gillian Yourston (@GillYourston), who designed IBM UK's Sales Eminence Programme, has a strong interest in sustainability. Here are her insights from the chat:

  • Sometimes stockholders will need to be prepared to wait for the returns #zerowasteIBM
  • siloed models can make it tough but not impossible - shipping in bulk with local packaging makes a ton of sense #zerowasteIBM

In summary

Finally, I too participated in the chat, both to learn from the sustainability experts and to discuss the role of Big Data analytics in a greener world. Here are the key thoughts that I shared:

  • I learned tons, all of which is recyclable (hopefully) into me, my household, our community becoming more sustainable #zerowasteIBM
  • Resource-recov process/logistics costs > benefits may signal nonsustainable practices on planetary basis #zerowasteIBM
  • All humanity hold stock of nonrenewable resources in common & have vital stake in sustainable stewardship. #zerowasteIBM
  • Farm2farm is practical vision o "leftovers" in societal food consmption proc being 100% recoverable for fertilizer #zerowasteIBM
  • That's the "farm to farm" closed-loop. Humanity has long known that organic waste is in fact fertilizer. #zerowasteIBM
  • Siloed materials management processes within large companies may lead to suboptimal resource recovery #zerowasteIBM
  • Sustainably green resource recovery demands closed-loop #bigdata acq, mining, & end2end process optimization of societal KPIs #zerowasteIBM
  • Mining a vast amount of fresh data all the time on SF waste requires #Recology #IBM to use #BigData parallel processing #zerowasteIBM
  • Don't have figures on data vols, but #Recology help SF recycle 1.2M tons paper 174K tons glass 135K tons metal annually #zerowasteIBM
  • Insight-optimized neighborhd-level recycling progs help #Recology help SF operate efficiently while saving environment #zerowasteIBM
  • Insights derived from mining SF waste-stream data help #Recology identify most effective recycle programs by neighborhd #zerowasteIBM
  • Using #IBM PowerSystem, #Recology pinpoints locatin, types, & amount of waste 2 B collected 4 sorting or composting.  #zerowasteIBM
  • The sheer volume, velocity, & variety of data on materials handled in processing SF's waste stream is staggering. #zerowasteIBM

If you're interested in continuing the discussion for how smarter computing can help the environment, please tweet your thoughts to the world, using the hashtag #zerowasteIBM. Or reach out directly to IBM or any of the other organizations who were on this tweetchat.


By the way, check out this cool IBM infographic: "A Smarter Planet is a Sustainable Planet."


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