Disney Trash Tracking: Waste Management of Tomorrow(land)?

by | Nov 10, 2016

disney-trash-collectionWalt Disney World is using iPhones and sensors in a trash-tracking pilot that aims to eliminate overflowing garbage cans.

But as the Orlando Sentinel reports, employees at the Happiest Place on Earth are none too happy with the new system, called “Custodial of Tomorrow.”

Under the pilot, 40 employees in Tomorrowland receive iPhones that they will return at the end of their shifts. The iPhones will track custodial workers and direct them to certain tasks.

Additionally, electronic sensors will be used to determine when trashcans are three-quarters full and need emptying, or when a bathroom needs cleaning. The phone, using GPS, will alert nearby employees when trash and recycling bins need to be emptied.

Disney World did not respond to Environmental Leader’s request for comment about the waste management system. In a statement to the Orlando Sentinel, a theme park spokesperson said “this new approach will enable us to deploy Cast Members in real time, to areas that need service, ultimately making the Cast and Guest experiences even better.”

Unite Here Local 362, which represents the Disney World janitors, called the pilot project “very concerning” and said it raises issues about privacy, employees’ loss of seniority and responsibility for damaged phones.

As Waste Dive points out, the Walt Disney Company has long been at the forefront of waste management and recycling technology. Disney World’s pneumatic waste collection tubes were considered cutting edge when the park first opened. More recently the company has partnered with Harvest Power to convert food waste into energy and adopted Recycle Across America’s standardized labeling system.

The Walt Disney Company is also a founding member of the US Zero Waste Business Council and last year Disneyland became the first theme park in the US to receive zero waste certification at one facility — an achievements that helped the resort win an EPA 2014 Food Recovery Challenge award.

The company has set a goal to divert 60 percent of its waste from landfills and incineration by 2020 and says it reached 49 percent diversion in 2015.

But will the new trash-tracking system fly? Or flop?

Lux Research VP research Mark Bunger says its more of a labor union issue than a waste management issue. “The volume of trash to be disposed of will stay the same, but bins will not get overfull and messy areas will be cleaned up more quickly,” he told Environmental Leader. “I do think there is a labor union issue here, clearly, because it will upset some of the unwritten — and maybe written — rules about how the union works at Disney. But to be honest this is exactly the same kind of technology already deployed by facilities management companies in thousands of offices and factories around the world.”

Bunger cites Yanzi Networks’ IoT sensor network for commercial building facility management applications as an example.

More specific to waste management, connected systems like Bigbelly’s are already helping customers cut costs and improve efficiencies.

Last year Los Angeles’s Downtown Center Business Improvement District expanded its use of the Bigbelly smart waste and recycling system for broader waste management coverage across the district. The solar-powered cloud-based system analyzes data from connected waste and recycling bins, and sensors and intelligence triggers notify waste collection employees when units near capacity.

The business improvement district’s president and CEO Carol Schatz said the district decided to expand its use of the Bigbelly system after experiencing cleaner streets and sidewalks, as well as reduced waste collection costs, improved overall operational efficiency, and increased waste and recycling disposal by pedestrians.

If Disney World can get sufficient buy-in from its employees — and right now that’s a big if — then the company’s Custodial of Tomorrow program and its waste and efficiency goals just might live up to its name.

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