Navigant Research Blog

Los Angeles Uses Data to Transform Streets

— March 1, 2018

Cities are using data to make informed decisions to deliver city services; however, data alone is not enough. Successful data-driven initiatives require clear vision backed by coordinated processes, and smart technologies that can provide city managers with new insights into operational performance. On January 25, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced nine cities earned the What Works Cities Certification for their excellence in data-driven governance to improve quality of life. The nine cities—Boston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Louisville, New Orleans, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC—will each receive expert assistance to accelerate progress. What Works Cities Certification evaluates factors including cities having a dedicated staff responsible for helping departments use data to track progress, contracts being awarded based on past performance, and having key datasets open to the public.

Data-Driven Initiative Starts with a Clear Vision and Realistic Process

Among the nine cities, Los Angeles holds the highest honor with gold-level certification. The other eight cities won silver. One of many data-driven initiatives in Los Angeles is the Clean Streets LA (CSLA) initiative. In 2015, Mayor Eric Garcetti launched the CSLA initiative to replenish funding for city cleanliness services, aiming to have the dirtiest streets cleaned up by 2018.

Los Angeles Sanitation (LASAN) crew members assessed the cleanliness of 42,000 street segments using video and geographic information system tools every quarter. They assign a score based on four criteria: loose litter, bulky items, weeds, and illegal dumping. A street is rated 1 if it is clean, 2 if it requires some cleaning, and 3 if it requires immediate attention.

CSLA Interactive Map

(Source: City of Los Angeles)

After assigning a score, LASAN uses the data to identify where to allocate new garbage bins and where to target the deployment of cleanup crews. Since launching the initiative, the city has deployed over 1,500 garbage bins around the city. In just 1 year, these efforts led to an 82% reduction in streets previously rated as “Not Clean.” To make this data accessible to residents, the open data generated from the CSLA initiative is translated into an interactive map on the GeoHub, the city’s map-based open data portal.

Next Step: Smart Technologies

Cities can take another step forward to improve operational efficiency by leveraging smart technologies to automate data collection and analysis. For example, having achieved the goals of the CSLA, Los Angeles is now exploring avenues to incorporate forecasting and predictive analytics that can predict future deployment of garbage bins.

The City of Baltimore recently announced its move forward with a $15 million project to deploy 4,000 smart garbage bins across the city in an effort to increase the city’s waste collection efficiency. Ecube Labs will provide solar-powered bins equipped with sensors that monitor fill level, and a software suite to plan optimized collection routes and provide daily route information for each truck based on real-time data. Navigant Research expects the global market revenue for this type of smart waste collection technology will reach $223.6 million in 2025.

There is an opportunity for smart technologies to enhance the delivery of municipal waste collection services. And as Los Angeles demonstrated, it is necessary to have a clear vision and coordinated process in place to achieve successful outcomes. Once the goals and resources are defined, technology can accelerate the progress by improving efficiency and opening the door to other integrated solutions.


Giving to the Environment This Holiday Season

— December 5, 2016

LEDsThe moment Halloween was over, or in some cases before, holiday decorations were already on sale in major retail stores. With the holiday season comes added expenses—from gifts to parties to additional travel. Reducing energy consumption allows consumers to save money on their utility bills while also contributing less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. By selecting certain types of gifts, it’s easy to help reduce waste and environmental impact during the holiday season.

Lower Energy Consumption

Holiday lights for both the commercial and residential sectors are already an added expense this time of year. Using LED holiday lights can greatly lower utility bills. Even with the additional upfront costs compared with traditional miniature lights, LEDs are a more economical option. While incandescent lights have a lifespan of roughly 2,000 hours, LED holiday lights have a projected lifespan of upwards of 20,000 hours. In addition to their extended lifespan, LEDs use considerably less energy and thus cost less over the same operating hours as traditional lights. Although LEDs consume substantially less energy than incandescents, reducing overall operating hours will decrease energy consumption even more. One simple way to reduce operating hours is to turn off lights when no one is in a particular room or area.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Many gifts for the holidays are made from recycled materials, such as recycled tires, plastic bottles, reclaimed wood, and repurposed clothes or fabrics. These types of gifts reduce environmental impact over gifts made only with new, non-recycled materials.

Reusing items comes in many forms. Purchasing rechargeable batteries eliminates waste for gifts and home electronics that require batteries. Reusing newspaper, paper bags, maps, scarves, or other fabric as wrapping is an environmentally friendly alternative to purchasing wrapping paper, which not only reduces waste, but also cuts overall holiday shopping costs. For the crafty types, holiday decorations can be made by reusing household items, such as jars, cardboard, strings, and paper.

With the increase in wrapping paper, holiday cards, cans, and bottles, it is important to recycle as many items as possible. As Navigant Research discusses in its Smart Waste Collection report, the collection of smart waste is a growing market and is expected to grow from $57.6 million in 2016 to $223.6 million in 2025. While many recycling programs could improve upon efficiency, they will accept the above listed items, making it easy to recycle instead of throwing these items in the trash. For other things such as electronics, there are often special recycling options for these items or many places that will accept them as donations.

From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, household waste increases by more than 25%. Reducing, reusing, and recycling can significantly decrease the amount of waste around the holidays and help form habits to continue waste reduction throughout the year.


Discarding Food Is a Wasted Energy Opportunity

— May 5, 2016

Corn biofuelFood waste in the United States has been a growing problem. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, one-third of food produced worldwide—roughly 1.3 billion tons—gets lost or wasted each year. Annual food loses and waste totals approximately $680 billion in industrialized countries and $310 billion in developing countries.

Last year, John Oliver spotlighted the issue on his HBO series, Last Week Tonight. Oliver focused the episode on Americans not discriminating against abnormally shaped fruits and vegetables, not being as picky with expiration dates, and donating more food. While the episode provided one take on a solution to this issue (along with added wit and humor), the Heartland Biogas Project is looking at food waste in a completely different light.

The Heartland Biogas Project

The Heartland Biogas Project, along with Heartland Renewable Energy, LLC, was acquired in September 2013 by EDF Renewable Energy. The project, located in Weld County, Colorado near the small town of LaSalle, will be taking food waste and transforming it into electricity through anaerobic digestion. Anaerobic digestion—meaning digestion without oxygen—is the process by which organic materials, such as discarded food and plants, decompose while solid waste (used for composting) and methane gas are emitted. The methane gas is then sent to an interstate pipeline and used to generate electricity. Without using this methane to generate electricity, the gas would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, adding to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Burning methane rather than letting it escape creates much lower amounts of GHG emissions in the form of CO2. The global warming potential for methane, a potent GHG, is 25 times greater than for CO2.

A Viable Option?

The United States has over 2,100 sites producing biogas split between 247 anaerobic digesters on farms, 1,241 wastewater treatment plants (of which roughly 860 use the biogas they produce), 38 standalone (non-agriculture and non-wastewater) digesters, and 645 landfill gas projects. The American Biogas Council estimates that there are almost 11,000 sites with strong biogas development potential. The United States has a low number of digesters compared to Europe, which currently operates over 10,000, a quantity that allows some communities to be virtually fossil fuel free.

While food waste can be reduced in many ways, existing food waste can be used to create electricity. The American Biogas Council believes that if potential digester sites were fully utilized, the systems could produce enough energy to power 3.5 million homes in the United States and reduce carbon emissions equivalent to removing over 800,000 vehicles from the road.

So why are there not more anaerobic digesters if they create these benefits? In Europe, increased energy prices and government incentives have helped spur this market. However, similar incentives are not available in the United States, and the high cost and level of work needed to maintain the sites reduces interest. Perhaps the Heartland Biogas Project can streamline the process and work to effectively reduce operating costs and challenges in order to increase interest in and development of additional anaerobic digesters in the United States.


Is Recycling Garbage?

— December 28, 2015

Recycling has been a topic of recent media trash talk. Energy consumption associated with the practice, particularly through transport, is high, negating many of its environmental benefits. In addition, the price of many recyclable commodities has fallen dramatically (aluminum fell from $0.80 to $0.37 per pound in recent months), undermining the economics of recycling. However, depending on the material, recycling can still have a major environmental benefit. Recycling aluminum saves 10 tons of CO2 per ton of metal. Glass, on the other hand, only saves 0.34 tons of CO2 per ton of material, and these small savings are quickly offset by emissions from transportation, collection, and distribution. Cities are increasingly seeing that recycling is, in many cases, just not worth the investment.

In Portland, Oregon, for example, recycling recovery rates (the amount of recyclables recovered from municipal waste) fell between 2013 and 2014. Some of this decline is easily explained by reduced circulation of magazines, junk mail, and newspapers. However, the construction of new buildings rose in the city, increasing the amount of metal and wood waste that could have been recycled. The WestRock paper mill, Portland’s wood processing facility, closed in October of 2015 due to financial troubles. The cost of recycling remains high elsewhere as well, especially for curbside recycling. In Augusta, Maine, the cost of recycling is $879 and $113 per ton for curbside collection and collection at Augusta City Center, respectively. On December 17, the Augusta city council voted to end curbside recycling in May 2016.

Recycling is still very popular among consumers. In fact, since its introduction in the 1980s, there are now more than 9,800 curbside recycling programs in the United States. However, recycling is, and always has been, energy intensive and costly. Materials like aluminum are beneficial to recycle, but for plastic and glass, the current systems and technology makes the practice economically and environmentally unfavorable. For recycling to work, the system has to change.

Technology to the Rescue

Recent advances in recycling technology could solve many of these problems. For example, Epson’s new waterless PaperLab allows offices to recycle up to 6,720 sheets of paper a day onsite. This eliminates the need to transport heavy, used paper. In Denver, Colorado, Alpine Waste is setting up a state-of-the-art Styrofoam recycling system. This will allow the city to process a previously hard-to-recycle material and prevent a lengthy trip to far-away processing facilities.

Another improvement involves a new type of easily recycled plastics. Discovered by Eugene Chen and Miao Hong of Colorado State University, the material is known as poly(GBL), and can be reduced to its original monomer state (for remaking into plastics) at 220°C  and 300°C (428°F and 572°F) for linear and cyclic polymers, respectively. The process to recycle poly(GBL) completely breaks down polymers and does not require the same high level of energy or water as previous plastic recycling systems—since the raw material doesn’t reach as high of a temperature, less water is required to cool it. This material promises to be cheaper to produce and recycle than many petroleum- or bacteria-derived plastics currently in production.

The current system of recycling is not cost or energy efficient. However, many recent advances have been made to usher in more efficiency. Arlene Karidis of Waste Dive, a news source dedicated to covering of municipal waste, recently published an article stating that technological advancements in recycling are expected continue in 2016, with increased emphasis being placed on safety, automation, and separation of materials. As 2015 ends, the year ahead promises a renewal in the way we think about recycling.


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