Written by Antonis Mavropoulos
I just watched the movie WALL-E with my daughter. It is a DISNEY – PIXAR production with high quality animation and interesting characters in the form of robots. But what makes the movie really audacious, at least for people working in waste management business, is that the main hero is a professional waste manager robot with the name Waste Load Lifter Allocator – Earth class (WALL-E). And this is why I think that the movie deserves some deeper thoughts about the future of waste management.
Comment 1: The movie presents earth, at least the big cities, after 500-700 years as “Waste Lands”. Different waste types have covered the whole surroundings and a lot of the actual city space. Skyscrapers have been built from packaged waste in order to save space for waste storage. No signal of life is detected. All the residents have been left for a cruise at space that lasts at least hundreds of years.
The only activity that is still going on is the waste packaging and allocation made by a robot.
I have never seen a so direct and full of meaning comment for the future of our civilization in case we will not find radical solutions to minimize waste production and improve their management in terms of maximizing recovery and minimizing residues.
WALL-E comes to remind everyone that solid waste management is directly related not only with the quality of life in big cities but even more with the actual capability to live in them. If we just imagine what will happen to New York, Paris or London, or any other big city in case waste management is completely out of order for 2-3 months…
The movie is also a great caution for the fact that we all know: the biggest challenges in solid waste management are still ahead us. The continuously increased production of waste in combination with the continuously increased variety and complexity of waste streams have created a big problem for our industry: waste management has to run just one step beyond new products consumption, without having the time and capacity to overtake (the curse of “always second”).
The only way to confront this lag – time is to integrate waste management and resources management. But that is something we all know is difficult, it needs radical industry transformations and it takes time. In order to gain more time, waste treatment technologies and recycling schemes are for the time being the only tools available.
The history of waste management has just started and the steps we have done so far are much more less than the steps we have to implement ahead.
Comment 2: Speaking technically, WALL-E as a robot is not so futuristic. Its main capabilities are already familiar in waste management industry, although they do not have been integrated in the form of a robot.
WALL-E moves using caterpillars and allocates the packs using well-designed mechanical arms, a little bit more modern that some lifters already have.
WALL-E can recognize different types of waste, using something like infrared or laser detector. Optical detectors have already been successfully tested in several facilities and are already in use.
Just because there is no human kind in earth, WALL-E makes no recycling or separation of waste streams. He (the robot is a male) peaks only what is a kind of game and all the rest are driven in his square stomach.
Then, his whole body acts as a compactor providing nice compacted waste packs.
WALL-E puts those packs in order creating daily cells, floors and skyscrapers of them.
My first thought when I saw WALL-E working was that this robot could be a kind of achievable machine for waste management industry. I am almost sure that robots that will act like WALL-E could be developed in the next 5-10 years. Maybe they will be not so handsome and sweet like WALL-E but certainly so effective in similar duties.
Comment 3 (final): There are some more interesting highlights in the movie. I peak two of them.
People in the space cruise are so much depended on robots and daily consumption of food and beverages, that they have been mutated to fat and unable to move entities. In general terms, the dependence of human kind on machines has been the subject of a lot of science fiction movies and books. But in this movie people have lost the most vital abilities: to move and communicate directly.
There is also a female robot called EVA. This robot is by far more advanced than WALL-E in terms of a. movement (EVA suspends and flies fast in stead of moving with caterpillars) and b. capacity to detect and recognize items.
The weak point of EVA is that it is by far much more depended from its technological advances and very sensitive to their damages or malfunctions.
WALL-E on the other hand is much more simple and heavy – duty made. Those properties are necessary in order to survive in crude environments, although they are creating troubles when you move to complex technological systems.
Instead of conclusion: go and watch WALL-E. There are a lot to think about…