Movies, cartoons, and anime have long warned us about numerous realistic apocalyptic scenarios due to climate change that are just around the corner. From “Wall-E” to “Interstellar” and “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind”. But I’ve never paid much thought to it, that is until I’ve watched a Netflix documentary “David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet”.
Shocking details of our world melting and the planet’s ecosystem collapsing because of human actions made me acutely aware of the situation we’re in and that the next ten years are crucial for Earth. We produce more than we can consume and we’re drowning in trash. CO2 emissions are rising, the Earth is getting warmer, and the diversity of species is disappearing.
It all made me wonder what can be done about it and how emerging technologies can help. So here are 5 IoT solutions that are helping save our planet right now.
Let’s start with food. Although the planet’s population is increasing drastically and the need for food is bigger than ever before, the topic of food waste has not vanished. Just imagine – a third of all food produced globally is wasted annually. It is around 1.3 billion tons of food. Unless the problem of food waste is tackled, this number will grow by 70 percent by 2050. And to think that to produce a single food item many precious resources are spent, it is abominable to allow one-third of it to be discarded.
Digital technology comes to the rescue. With digital capabilities, we can identify, prevent and/or reduce possible waste. One such example is an IoT solution ‘Eden’ devised by U.S. store chain Walmart that tracks the freshness of food as it moves from farms to the stores.
The key indicator of food decay is changed levels of moisture in products due to higher temperature levels in container trucks. Using connected sensors, machine learning, and product tags for moisture sensing, the solution can trace food quality in real-time. So what happens if apples start to go bad on their way to some distant store? They are re-routed immediately to a closer store. Eliminating waste with this technology, Walmart aims to save two billion dollars over the next five years.
Growing enough food to feed all the planet’s population is another problem facing humanity. Despite a slow-down in population growth, the UN projects that the number of people living on Earth in 2050 will reach 9.7 billion. According to the World Resources Institute, 56% more food should be produced to feed everyone.
Here’s where sustainable agriculture and farming could help. And no one does it better than innovators from Wageningen University in the Netherlands. In terms of gross value, this country constantly ranks among the world’s top agricultural exporters, although you can drive across the whole of the Netherlands from the north to the south in less than four hours.
Their sustainable and well-controlled approach to vertical farming – that is growing crops on layers one above the other – does not rely on soil, sunshine, water, and pesticides. And more importantly, vertical farms do not require vast amounts of arable land, compared to conventional farming, and avoid further deforestation.
IoT makes vertical farms more modular and helps monitor the health of crops that are grown. Smart greenhouses have sensors installed that gather data on temperature, humidity, pH, and CO2 levels, as well as light and water. Thanks to this real-time data farmers can intelligently monitor and control their crops, regulating temperature, humidity, lighting, spraying, irrigation, and more.
Now is the time to have the trash talk. Not only it is contaminating oceans and soils, producing harmful gasses, and making our planet inhabitable, but the whole process of garbage collection is far from perfect. To keep our cities clean and save the time and effort of waste management companies, IoT route optimization systems have been devised. One of them is a Turkey-based company called Evreka.
This IoT management system makes dumpsters “smart” to gain information about how much they are filled. Sensors that are durable against heat and water are attached to containers. They collect information about location, temperature, and fill levels, and send it to the cloud. Later, this data is used to form the optimum route of the vehicle collecting garbage and to calculate the frequency of such visits.
One Swedish waste management company has gone further than just making their garbage bins smart. They have implemented a vacuum-powered system that is my absolute favorite solution not only to dispose of waste but also to sort it for further reuse and recycling.
This brilliant waste management system is called Envac. It uses high-pressure underground tubes that suck garbage bags from the bins and transport them into a sorting center. But before making it to the tubes, the garbage bag has to be thrown in the correct container – for organic waste, recyclables, and for all other waste. Organic waste is turned into biogas and all other types of waste are used to produce electricity or heat.
The bins are equipped with sensors that detect when they are full. It takes 10 seconds to empty the whole bin underground so that they don’t overflow. One set of such smart waste bins can serve 30-50 families. Residents even get feedback on their smartphones about how much waste they produce and how much biogas.
City street lights are the last thing I’d like to mention here. Despite using lots of energy and producing air pollution with CO2 emissions, city lights can have negative effects on human health. There are companies with ready-made IoT solutions that help not only save costs with LED streetlights but also reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions by 30%.
Novalume Solutions is a Danish company that delivers smart city lighting solutions for city municipalities. Their IoT system called LUMINTELL™ optimizes street light usage to decrease energy use during off-peak traffic hours. Each street light is wirelessly connected to the online application in the cloud. Using the software solution, municipalities workers can see the entire street light installation and monitor their operations. This function reduces 75% of maintenance costs.
Energy-efficient solutions, solutions that help recycle waste with sensor-based technology, vertical farming, and solutions that help eliminate food waste – all these examples of IoT technology solutions are great tools in our battle to save Earth from ecological catastrophes that are looming. But the more such solutions, the better. So, now it’s up to us, humans, to use all methods available to us and act.