AWS Public Sector Blog

The road to zero waste: Driving efficiencies in sustainability with cloud technology

There are few missions more worthy than those addressing the most urgent environmental challenges of our time. The new four-part documentary series Climate Next from Amazon Web Services (AWS) explores how governments and organizations around the world use cloud technology from AWS to drive innovation in response to our changing planet, create scalable solutions to address climate change, and empower communities to protect and preserve our planet. One episode of the series showcases how the City of Santa Fe, New Mexico uses cloud technology to create a more efficient waste and recycling management operation to divert waste from landfills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

With a population of 87,505 as of 2020, Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, is the fourth-largest city in the state. The city provides weekly curbside waste and recycling collection for all residents – but that wasn’t always the case. Prior to implementing a curbside recycling program, residents were required to take recycling to dedicated offsite locations to be processed. Then Santa Fe partnered with Rubicon, an AWS Technology Partner, to improve the performance of its entire waste, recycling, and sustainability operations. By using the cloud to bring a recycling program directly to residents’ doorsteps, Santa Fe dramatically increased the recycling rates of its citizens and enabled the city government to divert more waste away from landfills and reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Santa Fe leverages RUBICONSmartCity™, a cloud-based technology suite that helps city governments run more efficient, effective, and sustainable operations. Rubicon uses AWS services including Amazon CloudWatch, Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) for SQL Server, and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to create a powerful cloud application to deploy smart devices in waste and recycling trucks, effectively creating an Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled waste collection fleet.

Each one of Santa Fe’s trash vehicles use RUBICONSmartCity technology to collect garbage and recycling at between 800-900 home pickups per day. Drivers carry a smartphone, which runs Rubicon’s proprietary app, which provides drivers with optimized collection routes and live telematics information, and streams data back to headquarters via the cloud. Managers and supervisors can track service status at every home in the city, route progress, issues in the field, vehicle breakdowns, pending vehicle breakdowns, end destination location, and other informatics that are necessary for efficient program operations.

The city improved customer service by reducing the number of missed pickups, eliminating paper route sheets and manual tracking of customer issues, optimizing collection routes, and saving taxpayer dollars through actions such as reducing fuel consumption, wear and tear on vehicles, and unnecessary overtime. Since June 2015, Santa Fe drivers have captured more than 1,300 instances where residents failed to put a cart at the curb. Being able to capture this information allows Santa Fe to avoid sending drivers back out to collect recycling that was not put out for collection in time, while educating residents on what time the truck will be there on the next run – all logged within the RUBICONSmartCity app.

Santa Fe has been able to create further efficiency in waste collection by enabling drivers to identify recycling contamination, log it with a picture, and skip that collection, ultimately helping drivers to deliver the cleanest product possible to pass along to city sorters. If pickups are missed and residents call in to inquire, Santa Fe can tell the resident exactly why their collection wasn’t picked up via the data that was collected in the RUBICONSmartCity app. Common reasons for this include container obstructions, close proximity to other objects, or bin contamination. Contamination in recycling can be waste that involves toxic ingredients like household chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, and automotive chemicals. This sort of contamination is one of the major expenses of recycling programs and can also prohibit other materials that interact with contaminated items from being recycled, so identifying contaminated bins while also educating residents on which materials they can and cannot include in their recycling collections has helped to streamline resources, save the city money, and provide a transparent and efficient recycling program in which residents can participate.

Using cloud technology, the city’s fleets can do much more than just collect the trash. Santa Fe’s waste collection vehicles are the only vehicles in the city fleet that go up and down every single street in the city at least once per week. With RUBICONSmartCity, these garbage trucks become mobile data collection centers that can complete additional tasks like detect potholes or graffiti. Using the app, Santa Fe recycling fleet drivers have identified instances that resulted in more than 300 graffiti removal projects.

With cloud-based recycling technologies like RUBICONSmartCity, state and local governments have access to innovative solutions that can drive customer-centric sustainability and Smart Cities programs. As seen with Santa Fe, the cloud can do more than modernize programs. It empowers governments to harness technology to streamline operations and work towards long term sustainability goals, while improving customer service and conserving taxpayer dollars. Cloud technologies, like those provided by AWS and AWS Partners, can help state and local governments make a greater and more immediate impact in the fight against climate change.

Learn more about Santa Fe’s ‘Road to Zero Waste’ and the ways that other AWS customers are using innovative cloud technologies to transform the way we respond to climate change in Climate Next.

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