Technology could lead to the answers for Nashville’s trash woes

By JJ Rosen January 10, 2022
graphic showing waste technology

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.

Let’s talk about trash.

Although trash is not pleasant to talk about (or smell), for many Nashvillians it’s become an unexpected topic of conversation.

Just in time for the holidays, when trash cans are brimming with discarded fruitcakes and recycling bins are maxed out with hundreds of Amazon boxes, we got word that curbside recycling services would be suspended.

It’s been the perfect storm that would have been hard for anyone to predict. The company that the city contracts with for trash and recycling pickup was already fighting pandemic-related staffing shortages before they ultimately filed for bankruptcy protection this fall.

Dec. 21 story: Nashville suspends recycling pickup services as trash collection woes sap Metro resources

While they attempt to reorganize their company, Metro has had to scramble to keep curbside pickup services from falling behind. With a limited budget and an old fleet of trucks, this is no easy task. Their only choice is to temporarily prioritize trash pickup over recycling while they work through a plan to get everything resolved.

The situation stinks, but it also provides an opportunity to think outside the box.

The term “smart city” has become popular in recent years to describe the future of city living. The idea is simply to leverage technology to solve old problems in new ways. Tech solutions to solve traffic problems get most of the press but rethinking every challenge that a city faces with a smart city mindset is worth the effort.

So, how can tech help us with our trash problem?

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If we look at the challenge holistically, a major goal of a “smart waste management” system is to reduce the number of pickups that must be made each week to keep the city clean and green. This includes not just residential service, but also public trash cans, dumpsters, and recycling drop-offs that keep public works trucks driving all over town every day.

Smart city tech can help us meet this goal in several ways:

  • Sensors can be installed in public trash cans to alert crews when they are full, allowing them to skip pickups that are not needed.
  • Solar powered trash compactors can be installed on trash and recycling bins to optimize storage and reduce the number of pickups needed.
  • Based on the data collected from sensors, AI and predictive data analytics can be used to optimize pickup days, times, and routes.

Using tech to reduce the number of pickups and improve the routes comes with the added benefits of less carbon emissions, less traffic tie ups behind garbage trucks, and less wear and tear on collection equipment.

Fortunately, we can look at other cities around the world who have already implemented smart waste and recycling technologies as proof that it’s a good investment. Cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and Amsterdam have already successfully deployed technologies to ease their heavy trash and recycling demands.

With Nashville’s rapid population growth, the amount of trash we are producing will only continue to grow.  So, it’s not a matter of if we need to implement more smart waste management but when.

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They say one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Optimizing our trash and recycling infrastructure with smart city technology is something we will all treasure someday.  For now, though, this situation is making a lot of us feel like Oscar the Grouch.

JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba, a Nashville software development and IT support firm.  Visit for more info.

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