Waste not want not

Small talk
According to Agnieszka Rychlicka, the deputy CEO of prop-tech waste disposal experts T-Master, the way we as households and businesses have been disposing of our refuse – and the amount we have had to pay to do so – is just a load of old rubbish. She tells us how the Individual Waste Segregation System developed by her company uses hi-tech to bring down both the environmental and financial costs

In your opinion, we are all – or almost all of us – overpaying for our rubbish to be removed. Why is this?

Agnieszka Rychlicka, deputy CEO, T-Master: This is a complicated and multi-layered issue. In my opinion, we have to start with the fact that we are producing more and more rubbish, so why should we be paying less? But on the other hand, with the current method of calculating costs it is hard to say who is overpaying and by how much and who’s paying too little. In principle, nobody knows how much rubbish we produce. Up until now there hasn’t been a system in Poland to measure exactly how much rubbish is produced by each individual household or office tenant that would make individual costing possible. If we all were charged for our electricity, water and gas usage equally, would it be fair? Right now, there are many reasons why we pay a lot and not only for our own rubbish.

What are these factors?

The law allows rubbish disposal charges to be based on many factors that are not actually related to the rubbish itself, such as being proportional to water usage, the size of the property, or the number of registered residents. It is well known that such methods are disproportionate and unfair and are sometimes a tool that can be abused. However, they certainly do not fit with reality. Moreover, having open bins allows rubbish to be disposed of from unknown sources – and this allows payment for waste disposal to be totally avoided, but it doesn’t mean that the costs disappear. Simply some other resident or tenant who happens to be in the system ends up paying for it. But companies that collect the rubbish negotiate with local authorities on the basis of the type and weight of the waste. There’s nothing stopping each particular household being charged in a similar manner. It is technologically possible. What’s interesting is that on estates where our system has been in place for the last three years, year-on-year it turns out that the average resident produces around 210 kg of waste and not the more than 340 kg figure that’s given by Statistics Poland.

How come you have such a precise figure for your properties? How can you reliably calculate the quantity of waste so that we pay only for what we really produce?

This is actually the main benefit of our Individual Waste Segregation System [System Indywidualnej Segregacji Odpadów (SISO)]. In short, we weigh the rubbish thrown out and we can without mistakes attribute it to an individual household, whether it be a family or a tenant.

How does it actually work?

Our system works like a rubbish meter. It’s based on a complex IT system and intelligent containers that can identify the amount of waste, weigh it and record it on an individual user’s account. The containers we have built that have internal 1,100-litre bins only open once a QR code stuck to the bin bag has been read. Every user receives their own unique set of codes for different types of rubbish, so it is known who throws away what and how much – and as a result, they pay only for themselves. Another element of the system is a mobile app for the user, with which they can use a smartphone to look at the statistics for the rubbish they have thrown away. Then they can figure out how to limit it and, in the future, I hope they’ll be able to see how much they are currently paying.

How can this teach people how to segregate their rubbish?

Above all, by raising their awareness of how much rubbish and how many recyclables we produce. This is the only effective way of changing the mentality of our society, which doubts the usefulness or doesn’t even see the point of segregation. This is also a great way of supporting for those who undertake their segregation conscientiously. Our system does away with collective responsibility, which is the most common reason for not fulfilling our responsibilities to segregate waste, particularly for residents of multi-apartment blocks and tenants of large commercial properties. We believe that the biggest motivation for limiting our waste and spreading the practice of segregation would be to base the disposal costs on the weight and the level of segregation. It’s worth pointing out that the system also prevents an entire property from being fined, when an inspection concludes that segregation is not being carried out.

What are the costs of implementing SISO?

That is a difficult question, because there are a lot of factors involved. I can’t give you concrete examples, because each implementation is individually scaled to meet the needs of the ordering party. But the social, environmental and economic benefits come to everyone who’s involved in the process, from the creation of the waste to its recycling and re-use.

Are you optimistic about how prop-tech trends could shape attitudes to how waste is handled and recycled?

I believe that implementing the modern technology currently available represents real progress. When it comes to new developments, we have already learnt how important it is to have green space, places where residents can meet and relaxation areas for workers. But still, there are many buildings, including modern and exclusive ones built from environmentally-friendly materials, where right next to flowerbeds or artificial waterfalls you will find an outbuilding for bins, which you can only enter by holding your nose and which you try to leave as quickly as possible. I think that when it comes to the places where we put our rubbish, there’s still a lot to do.

Interview: Tomasz Cudowski