With an impressive background in the waste management industry, both in Sweden and globally, it would be difficult to find a more qualified person than Thomas Nylund to develop a framework to help local authorities self-assess the maturity of their holistic waste management operations.
Having worked in waste management for roughly 15 years, Thomas now consults in the industry. He also works as a Senior Strategist and Advisor at VafabMiljø, a waste management organisation formed by the municipalities of Västmanland County, Heby and Enköping.
Throughout 2008 – 2019, Thomas was CEO of Gästrike återvinnare, a municipal association which provides over 167,000 people with waste management services in the form of collection, planning, and treatment in the municipalities of Gävle, Hofors, Sandviken, Ockelbo and Älvkarleby. He has also worked for SIDA and SKL International, supporting the global export of Swedish know-how in waste management.
Thomas holds an Honorary Doctorate in Environmental Engineering from the University of Gävle and is chairman of the corporate research school Future-Proof Cities, a collaboration between the University of Gävle, Dalarna University and Mälardalen University with a focus on sustainable urban development.
A Model For Assessing The Maturity of Waste Management
Perhaps his biggest contribution to sustainable urban development in the waste sector is Thomas’ WHAT-model – the Waste Management Holistic Assessement Tool.
Thomas recognized from his international engagements that the focus was often on the technical solutions for waste management, such as facilities sorting and treatment. The WHAT-model identifies the success factors that have to be in place in order to establish a sustainable waste management system.
“Besides the technology and systems for collection and treatment and disposal, you have to have the legislation in place. You have to raise public awareness. You have to have a competence among your staff. You have to get the financing in order,” says Thomas Nylund.
“So we’re looking at identifying about 10 or 15 crucial success factors that have to be in place in order to establish a realistic, long-term sustainable waste management system. So questions for self-assessment – on which level are we now and what are the main target areas for improvement that we must take on in order to establish a comprehensive system.”
The areas covered by the WHAT-model are:
- 1. Waste, sources, amounts, categories
- 2. Collection and transport
- 3. Sorting and treatment
- 4. Environmental impact
- 5. Socio-economic features
- 6. Public awareness
- 7. Goals and objectives
- 8. Laws and regulations
- 9. Planning
- 10. Financing
- 11. Competence and skills
- 12. Collaboration
- 13. Business possibilities and models
Watch the full interview to hear about these areas in detail (in English)
Thomas notes that the WHAT-model helps to shift the focus from the technical solutions to the ‘soft’ areas, which usually take the backseat.
“Often it’s best to start with the soft sides of it,” says Thomas Nylund.
“What’s most crucial to target? How is the legislation? What laws and regulations are there in place for the waste management and the different parts of it? Who controls the waste planning and also the streams of waste. Do you have a planning system for it?”
“(We’re trying) to make the decision-makers, officials, politicians and so on, aware of all these factors. That you have to have targeted all these things in order to get a sustainable long-term system in place.”
Thomas’ hope is that the model can become a digital tool, where it’s accessible to all, and supports the progression towards sustainable and cost-efficient waste management operations.
Better Waste Management By Using IoT
Thomas is currently leading a project at VafabMiljø called the BAIT Project: Bättre Avfallshantering med IoT.
Thomas is currently leading a project at VafabMiljø to understand how IoT solutions can improve waste management.
Thomas recalls that many municipalities in Sweden have started with smart bin sensors to understand the level of waste in containers and bins.
“The use of sensors for optimizing the logistics on collection and transport, that’s rather common, and that’s been the starting point for many companies. But our approach in this project is to apply a broader perspective on it to see if we can gather data on the generation of waste from different areas, from different sources. To look upon the structures, the composition of households and waste generators and so on and gather data over time.”
“What does that tell us? How could we use that data in planning and optimizing the whole system and also giving feedback to those who generate the waste?” questions Thomas Nylund.
Thomas believes that we can help citizens understand their recycling performance, optimize the whole system in terms of sizes and locations of bins.
“I thought you (WasteHero) had a good approach to that. To have a holistic perception of it and try to find solutions for that.”
The project has also been researching data that can be collected from the waste collection vehicles, such as fuel consumption, speed, and preventative maintenance in order to better organise how resources are used in waste management operations.
Overcoming The Barriers To Taking The First Step Towards Smarter Waste Management
Thomas attributes old systems, old patterns of thinking, and traditional ways of looking at operations as barriers in moving towards smarter and more sustainable waste management.
“Many, many companies are stuck with the company they initially used for digitalization or IT systems. They are locked into these old systems and configurations.” says Thomas Nylund.
“There’s a lot of traditions in the business, I would say. You hear ‘we have done it like this always and that has functioned well, so why do we have to change anything?”
But his outlook on progression in the waste management industry remains positive, “I think that things are really starting to happen now.”
Competencies Needed For The Future of Waste Management
Thomas has been looking into the competencies and skills needed for the waste management industry of the future, “In perspective of 2030 or 2050, what will happen with the professionals in the waste management business and what education and training would be required in the future?”
“We’re talking a lot about digitalization of course and I mean robotics, mechanical sorting, artificial intelligence and such things, I think will come in more and more into the business.”
An Important Reminder To Think Outside The Box
When asked what message he would like to share with his peers in the municipal waste industry, Thomas returned with an important reminder to all, to think more outside the traditional box.
“There’s a tendency to look at just what has been done within the waste management sector itself, not looking upon what technologies or what functions there are in other lines of business or other lines of operations.” says Thomas.
Thomas encourages local authorities to learn more about digitalization and development by looking to businesses in industries other than waste. By thinking outside the box, we can achieve smarter and more sustainable waste operations across the globe.
WasteHero is the leading enterprise cloud software for municipal waste management. We’re the experts in digitalising and optimising municipal waste management operations. WasteHero provides smart, sustainable and profitable software and technology solutions to in-house teams at local authorities and private waste collection contractors.
Want to learn more? Contact WasteHero today.