Smart bins for electronic waste a success… sort of.

Smart bins for electronic waste

Smart bins for electronic waste

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Special Ecological Report

A pilot project that began in 2013 in some areas of Emilia Romagna and is still on going (if you are able to find one) was hailed as a great success. It was called ‘Project Life “IDENTIS WEEE”’ and was developed through the financing of the European Union Life,

According to recent UN Environment Program data, currently, only 10% of the annual 50 million tons of WEEE is recycled. In 2012, Italy collected 240,000 tons of WEEE, approximately 4 kilograms per person. The Emilia Romagna region was the third biggest collector, with more than 23,000 tons, or between 5 to 6 kilograms per person. That still leaves more than 70% of WEEE not being collected.*

General Director of Hera, Roberto Barili explains that “The goal of this project is to double the amount of WEEE collected with great attention to the waste in the R4 group, made of materials recoverable by almost 95%.”

For this reason, Bologna Press set out to locate one in the city and by chance, we found a RAEE mobile stand on Via Irnerio on a Monday morning. Although their website states it should be there on Thursdays from 1700-1900.

How it works

Surprisingly, the operator informed us that by disposing of your electronic waste through this method, Hera would actually subtract a small discount off your next household waste bill. To be considered for this program, however, residents must show their Tessera Sanitaria in order for the transaction to be completed. The total waste is also weighed and the amount of discount awarded is based on how much is handed in.

Overall aim

The goal was to demonstrate the possible increase in collection of materials such as cell phones, light bulbs, electronic toys, tv, appliances, which have a significant environmental impact and contain valuable materials (such as, for example, iron, aluminium, glass, tungsten, palladium, etc.) that can be recovered and reused, accurately track the waste and duty: the new hi-tech, unique in Europe, with open weave commonly used (such as health card), with identification systems for utilities already in use and the specific card (distributed in nineteen families as part of the trial) in order to monitor and follow the correct disposal of WEEE, in particular small WEEE (R4) that would otherwise be erroneously conferred as unsorted waste.*

Credit due when paying for next rubbish bill.

Credit due when paying for next rubbish bill.

EU investment

3.5 million euro was pumped into the EU-supported project, which was developed by the Hera Group and Ecolight Consortium in Italy, and the Ecolum Foundation in Spain. The aim is to double the collection of materials such as mobile phones, electronic games, televisions, computers and other appliances. The smart dumpsters have also been specifically designed to make WEEE traceable so it can be more efficiently disposal of or recycled.*


Around Bologna the dumpsters are located at some major retail chains including Media World, Parco Meraville and IKEA in Casalechio took part. There are mobile versions, which may only sit for a few hours or days. Unfortunately, the website has not updated this information so it can be quite difficult to locate one.

Two levels of traceability

Some 19,000 families have been given special magnetic cards to use during the trial phase, but the smart bins can also be personally activated using regular National Health Insurance cards. To use the bins, a user holds up the barcode to the reader on the touch screen and a voice starts giving instructions. Paolo Paoli, who is responsible for technical coordination and innovation of environmental services at Hera Group, said the system is very easy to follow.

“After identification, the user has to indicate on the touch screen what type of WEEE he has delivered,” Paoli explained. “Then the prototype opens.”

The simple process also allows Hera to collect and analyze demographic data about the users and the kind of WEEE they are producing.

Following delivery, the waste’s path is also fully traceable. The dumpsters are connected via wireless or the mobile phone network with a data processing center, and data collected by the dumpsters is added to a database.

“There is a big server that communicates with every prototype in real time,” Paoli said. “We have some devices to check the weight or the fill level. We have a complete traceability process of unloading, transport and treatment of the WEEE contained in this prototype.”

Environmental and social impact

The project aims to prevent environmental and health problems caused by incorrect disposal of potentially hazardous materials contained in WEEE. Paoli said the smart bins could make a major difference.

“We can enforce correct treatment to recycle and recover about 85 or 95% of this waste,” he said.

The impact would, he added, be felt worldwide. Despite progressive EU legislation, around 75%, or some 8 million tons, of Europe’s electronic waste is illegally exported to developing regions, where there are often lax environmental and health regulations concerning electric and other forms of waste.

“There are no important treatment plants that can manage this type of waste in a correct way,” Paoli said, “and so it generates a social, environmental and economic problem for the whole world.”

Another benefit is that WEEE also contains valuable materials such as silver and gold, which can be recovered and reused in new devices – which reduces mining and other extractive activities.

*Information is taken from the Identis website.


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