digitalisation : Start-ups: How did you do it, Umutcan?

According to Umutcan Duman, he and his friends used to chase after garbage trucks and then pester the drivers with questions, such as: How do you decide the sequence of the various stops on your route? Are there particular streets where the rubbish bins are always overflowing and some where they are half-empty? Does the traffic disrupt you while you are working? What about pedestrians?

“It was really funny, we’d be sitting in my apartment and when we heard the refuse trucks thundering up the street, we’d dash out.” Not unusual behaviour perhaps for a hyperactive ten-year-old, but Duman was in the final semester of his Industrial Engineering degree at Middle East Technical University in Ankara.

In his course there had been a strong focus on improving efficiency and optimising planning. At some point it suddenly struck him how haphazard the refuse collection in his neighbourhood actually was. Sometimes the trucks would come far too often, then they wouldn’t come for days. As a specialist in industrial optimisation, he thought to himself – quite rightly – that there must be a better way of doing things. Three fellow students, Berkay Akcora, Mert Barutcu and Mehmet Pancaroglu, were also enthusiastic about the idea and a start-up company was quickly established. They started by following the refuse truck drivers to gain an initial understanding of the system they wanted to improve.

“In the end, we thought that if we could improve the coordination between the trips by the refuse trucks and the fill level of the bins, we would have actually solved the problem,” says Duman. Today he can only smile at such naive confidence. Back then, Evreka, as his company is still called today, started out as a classic IoT enterprise. “We attached sensors to the bins and hoped that the waste disposal companies would be able to plan their trips better with the help of the data they collected.” That was certainly the case, but Duman and his co-founders soon realised that this solved only one of many problems that make waste management inefficient in their city and elsewhere.

Taking a holistic approach

At this point they decided to adopt a holistic approach. They subjected their enterprise to rigorous analysis and decided to radically expand the business – from a simple IoT company, Evreka was now to become a comprehensive software-as-a-service provider. The aim was to cover the entire waste management process, from collection through to recycling, on one platform and thereby enable its optimisation.

Admittedly, this was a pretty ambitious undertaking. Up until this time, there had been digital solutions for all possible sub-segments of the industry, such as fleet management and quantity control, but the idea of covering the entire waste management value chain using software from a single source with open interfaces for other programmes – that was a completely new concept. Today, much of this aim has been achieved: using sensors and RFID chips, Evreka’s solution can not only locate and track waste bins and vehicles, it can also process weighing data and document the completion of tasks, for example by taking pictures or obtaining signatures via tablet or mobile phone.

The platform on which all these applications come together makes it possible to intervene immediately if necessary, for example if a refuse truck breaks down and needs to be replaced or if heavy traffic requires a collection route to be modified. Many of these types of changes are triggered automatically as soon as the relevant conditions are met.

Comprehensive solution

Another aspect of which Evreka is very proud is that the platform allows all stakeholders to be integrated – from individual citizens who can hand in their waste at a collection point and businesses that can use the services of a waste disposal company through to the waste disposal companies themselves and the municipal authorities that commission them.

The path from bin to recycling plant has now been almost completely covered digitally by Evreka. And now the company is venturing ever further into the recycling area with new modules. This development may result in the creation of a platform that, for example, accompanies a PET bottle from the moment of its disposal to the moment the recycled material becomes a new bottle again.

The industry is certainly showing a lot of interest in Evreka’s ideas. The company has long been present not just in Turkey, but in more than 40 countries around the world, with a strong focus on the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia, Canada and Europe. And it continues to expand. Currently, four or five new local branches are in the process of opening, including one in the Netherlands that will serve the European market even more strongly than before.

Umutcan Duman believes that the opportunities on offer are enormous. “There are no figures on what percentage of the market has gone digital, but it is still not very high. Waste management tends to be rather traditional. However, as soon as you start talking to the key players, you usually find a lot of interest there.” Especially from municipalities that

are faced by serious waste management challenges such as Istanbul, for example. Duman is particularly pleased that Evreka’s solutions are in use there: “There is, after all, quite a justified view that anyone who can cope with the huge volume of waste in Istanbul can manage it anywhere else in the world.”