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Green Business
News article20 September 2023Directorate-General for Environment

Articifial Intelligence (AI)-Driven Solutions for EMAS Organisations: Talking to ReLearn a pioneer-company in the waste sector

How can AI support sustainability in business and improve the future of work? We spoke to ReLearn, an AI startup, on addressing the waste crisis and facilitating environmental reporting through education, community engagement, and the help of AI.

NANDO - black circular object with a smaller circular section in the middle.
NANDO, the AI powered waste monitoring tool developed by ReLearn.
Photo by ReLearn

The EU has proposed on 20th June 2023, new rules and actions for AI so we can harness its full potential and the benefits it brings in the Digital Decade. The AI Act is the world’s first proposal for a legal framework regulating specific uses of AI while the Coordinated Plan on AI brings forward strategic alignment, policy action and acceleration of investment. The rules will ensure AI develops in a way that guarantees trust, safety and fundamental rights, while also promoting excellence in innovation.

Our working and corporate environment is constantly changing and evolving due to new technologies, social and political trends. For example, in the 2000s, the mainstreaming of the internet and its integration into our daily lifes had a major impact on how we work today. Now, we have a new trend that many predict will fundamentally change our work life: Artificial intelligence (AI). Especially at the beginning of this year, with the release of ChatGPT in November 2022, the hype around AI grew significantly. Opinions on it vary widely, ranging from extreme praise, considering it the solution to many of our problems, to significant fears about the potential consequences of this new technology. These often emotionally charged responses, however, obscure what AI could actually be for us: A practical tool, we can use to transform our corporate environment for the better.

To make use of this potential, we need to think about which problems we want to tackle and where we want the future of work to lead us?  Here EMAS can play a significant role in finding an organisation’s roadmap. As an environmental management tool, EMAS is not merely about reporting facts, such as CO2 savings, it is also about actively evolving with your company and reimagining the way we produce in a sustainable and circular way. The first step when registering with EMAS is to establish an environmental policy where the organisations compose their commitments and approaches towards environmental protection and its alignment into the corporate culture. Subsequent steps compel organizations to engage employees at all levels, fostering innovative solutions, improving performance, enhancing loyalty, and cultivating a positive work environment.

With a well-definded roadmap and a clear vision of the future, an organisation can start exploring how technology, particularly AI, can assist on the journey. Among others, AI can process and analyse vast amounts of data, handle repetitive and monotonous tasks and provide data-driven insights for informed decisions. This, in turn, liberates human potential for more creative and communicative work.

To showcase one practical application of AI in simplifying the burdensome work of monitoring and reporting, while addressing the waste problem for EMAS companies, we spoke to Fabrizio Custorella, Co-founder of ReLearn. ReLearn, the winner of HORIZON-EUSIC 2022, is dedicated to assisting people and businesses in becoming more eco-conscious through technology and education. Their AI powered waste monitoring tool NANDO has won the European Social Innovation Prize as the most innovative solution for the future of social living.

Fabrizio Custorella, young man with black hair, eyes and bird, starring at the camera. Black background.
Fabrizio Custorella, Co-founder of ReLearn
Photo by ReLearn

Could you please provide an overview on the objectives of ReLearn and why you chose to work with AI?

ReLearn is a service that combines technology and dynamic education with a data-driven approach to help people adopt conscious behavior in terms of waste production. Our mission started from a simple question “How can you solve a problem and so improve the environmental performance, if you do not monitor it?”

This is the reason why we decided to use Artificial Intelligence, to collect accurate data on the amount of waste produced and to make our clients compliant with the sustainability reporting, reducing waste-related CO2 emissions and empowering the community.

We decided to approach organizations that understand the need to adopt feasible sustainable practices and also have an obligation to monitor waste production to be compliant with European sustainability regulations.

Your AI powered waste monitoring tool NANDO has been a winner of the European Social Innovation prize, but what exactly is NANDO and which problems is it designed to solve?

Picture composed by two pictures. On the left a woman touching a screen on the black wall above five trash bins. On the right touch screen on a pedestal beside five white dustbins.
Smart bins through NANDO
Photo by ReLearn

NANDO is the first waste monitoring tool powered by AI that turns a normal bin into a smart bin: it helps companies to monitor, report and improve their waste performances. We designed it to help companies become zero waste. Additionally, NANDO is a powerful educational tool. ReLearn sees a future of zero waste first of all in behavioral changes and conscious recycling, so we use our data to engage and educate our community to recycle more and better.

  1. MONITORING AND REPORTING: NANDO reports the quantity and quality of waste through precise data on a waste monitoring dashboard creating a professional report according to the GRI 306  standard (editorial note: The waste reporting standard out of the set of GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards, find out more here). Customers are also able to monitor their live recycling rate, recycling trends and the filling level of the bins.
  2. EDUCATION: NANDO spreads sustainable practices to achieve the best recycling rate in an office space. Through a tablet it helps to identify in which bin the waste should go depending on waste disposal regulations in the region. Moreover, it constantly communicates with users: is able to understand and warn users if they have thrown the waste in the correct container, or correct them if they have made a mistake.
  3. IMPROVEMENT: Thanks to this monitoring, reporting and education process, NANDO guarantees an increase in the company's recycling rate of +58%. If the company reduces its environmental impact and carbon footprint, it is only because its community is acting responsibly.

In what ways do you believe NANDO can benefit EMAS Organisations?

Organizations with a proactive approach to environmental challenges want to improve their environmental performance continuously. Data collected by NANDO allows organizations to have a comprehensive understanding of their waste footprint and to assess their waste performance. Such knowledge enables executives to base decision-making on solid grounds.

NANDO targets waste reduction and efficient waste disposal management, which at the end of the day can save company costs. So NANDO data is used to improve their waste management performances as well.

Moreover, EMAS organizations should comply with regulatory requirements and reporting obligations. NANDO autonomously manages waste monitoring and comprehensive data reporting. This is not only useful for obtaining sustainability certifications, it also enhances transparency and accountability.

Could you elaborate on your partnerships with companies and institutions to demonstrate how partnerships can look like to EMAS Organisations? Can you share any success stories related to NANDO?

Over 20 listed companies and SMEs across six countries in Europe and the UK rely on NANDO to monitor, report, and improve their waste management, engaging a community of over 12,000 people. In just 9 months, NANDO has increased recycling rates by an average of +58%, resulting in correctly sorted waste increasing by 2,400 kg and saving 1,150 kg of CO2 emissions. For EMAS organizations, NANDO provides solid data for environmental analysis, action planning, and achieving Zero Waste goals through best practices and reusable solutions. It also automates internal audits and environmental statements for waste performance and CO2 emissions.

What is your outlook for the future of environmental monitoring?

The future of environmental monitoring to me looks promising with the advancements in technology. Innovative solutions such as remote sensing and AI offer increased accuracy and transparency in monitoring environmental parameters. I would like to underline transparency, as this parameter is one of the most significant in waste disposal. In ReLearn we focus on community participation and education also because united effort and visibility of correct recycling practices makes a huge difference. So, facilitating evidence-based decision-making, in my opinion, will improve qualitatively the transition to a more sustainable and resilient future. Indeed, the transition from a linear economy to a circular economy requires not only proper recycling, but most importantly the elimination of the concept of waste.

In your opinion, what role can AI play in solving the waste crisis?

I will start with technical details, as they matter a lot. First of all, AI can analyze such large sets of data, that humans would not be able to. Such analysis, then, provides not only actual data, but also historical waste generation patterns. And it is crucial for us because it allows us to predict future waste generation and plan waste management strategies. For example, ReLearn would like to track the consumption and quality of waste throughout Europe, having up-to-date maps that would allow international organizations to understand what regulations to implement at which locations. Our data is a powerful tool for monitoring the outcome of new regulations and sanctioning those operators who are greenwashing or not complying with European directives.

On a daily life level, it is particularly relevant for recycling. AI, for instance NANDO, not just records data, but analyzes consumption patterns and identifies different types of waste. It can be used for effective extraction of valuable materials in the future.

Globally, this consumption and demographic database enables policymakers to plan and allocate resources effectively, preventing overflows and optimizing waste collection routes.

Why should EMAS organisations aiming to achieve a circular economy look into AI-based solutions?

Well, I must admit that using AI is very practical. AI-based solutions simply optimize resource flows and enhance predictive analytics so much that any business that looks for being not only green but also smart should adopt this technology. However, more importantly, by leveraging AI, organizations can identify opportunities for circular practices specific for their businesses. Recycling practices are not universal for every company. We see it even in the example of waste disposal regulations that differ from city to city. AI is exactly the tool that can resolve such issues. ReLearn, for the matter of fact, powered NANDO to adapt to every environment and give our customers solutions based on the region where they are located. One small piece of tech, nevertheless, such a huge impact.




Publication date
20 September 2023
Directorate-General for Environment