Monthly Archives May 2019

Four things you didn’t know your smartphone could do

According to a report by Canalys, smartphone shipments in North America fell 18 percent in the first quarter of 2019 to a five year low of 36.4 million units. That is down from a record high of 44.4 million in the first quarter of 2018.

So why is the demand for smartphones decreasing in North America when it seems like practically everyone has one in their pocket?

Well – that could be precisely the reason. According to the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of adults in the United States own a smartphone. Paired with reduced innovation from cell phone manufacturers in 2019, the fact that the majority of adults have a phone that they’re content with means they aren’t purchasing upgrades.

Whether you’re happy with your device as it is or you’re waiting for the next big innovation to upgrade – we’re willing to bet that you’re underestimating the capabilities of your smartphone.

Here are some cool things that you might not realize your phone can do.

Identify flying objects:

Powered by Wolfram Alpha, Siri can help you identify any airplanes you might hear or see flying above you. Simply activate Siri and say “What planes are overhead?” In just moments, Siri will give you a chart that shows you the airline, flight number, altitude and degrees off the horizon of all the airplanes in your area. It can even tell you how far away the plane is from you and in which direction.

Now, Siri isn’t actually tracking the planes. Instead, your phone is checking the projection of where the plane should be located based on its flight plan. So while you may not always be able to locate a plane directly using Siri, you can usually get pretty close!

Customize your vibes:

Some texts are just more important than others. And most of us don’t want to seem like we’re always attached to our phones. While individualized ringtones are common, for those of us that like to keep our phones on silent, you can customize your phone’s vibrations! That way, you can tell who is contacting you without even taking your phone out of your pocket – even while it’s muted!

On your iPhone, you can open your contacts app, choose the contact you want to assign a certain vibration pattern to, tap edit, then text tone, then vibration. You can choose from various standard options from Apple or create your own pattern.

Android phones don’t have contact-specific vibration settings by default, but there are several different apps you can download to achieve the same effect. Check out Good Vibrations or WhoIsIt!

Selfie while you Vlog:

Nearly all smartphones have a camera, but did you know that you can actually take pictures and record video at the same time? That way, when you’re filming a video and find that perfect angle, you can take some snapshots without even stopping your recording.

While you’re recording with an iPhone, a circular white button appears in the corner of the screen. Simply tap that white button and you’ll take a photo without interrupting your recording.

On Android, the process is just as simple. While recording a video, just tap the “camera” icon. The photo will be saved to your gallery instantly.

One thing to note: Any photos you take while recording video will be at a lower resolution than if you just took them normally. The resolution is still more than enough for everyday use, but if you’re a stickler for quality, make sure you stop your recording before you start taking snapshots.

See the invisible:

While not necessarily a hidden feature, you can actually use your smartphone to check whether the batteries in your remote controls are dead if they stop working.

The camera on your smartphone is sensitive to IR radiation, which means that the infrared beam emitted when you press a button on the remote can be seen in the viewfinder of your camera despite being invisible to the human eye. Go check it out yourself! Point your remote at your camera and press a button. You should see the sensor on the remote light up in the viewfinder. If it doesn’t, you might want to put some new batteries in that remote! (Or your remote doesn’t use common IR radiation.)

Your smartphone has plenty of other uses – especially when you start to delve into the world of apps. Download a bubble level app to help hang your photos straight. Monitor your heart rate, activate your smart home devices, measure height, distance and width using your camera – even start your car! You can raise your volume by tilting your head, find out what song is playing over the speakers in the coffee shop, or even let your friends track your every move if you’d like.

Before you get wooed by the next big innovation and unnecessarily upgrade your phone, make sure you do your research and learn about all the great things your current device can do!

Where Does Your Waste Go?

Waste disposal is one of the most important services a business needs to function. Every business generates waste, and without proper disposal services, we’d be quickly buried by it. But where does all our waste go when it’s taken away by our disposal provider? Here are a few of the different places where your waste ends up.

Transfer Stations and Material Recovery Facilities

Before your waste arrives at its final destination, it will likely run through a transfer station and/or a Material Recovery Facility (MRF). Transfer stations are a temporary destination for waste disposal vehicles to drop off their collections. At the transfer station, the waste is usually compacted, loaded into even larger trucks, then shipped off to its next destination. These stations help to reduce waste disposal costs and allow the regular garbage trucks to pick up trash more efficiently throughout the day.

Material Recovery Facilities are separate locations where trash is sorted, usually in order to recover useful materials from the MSW stream before it reaches its destination. MRFs use tons of different machines, methods and technologies to achieve this. Some of the methods include running the trash through powerful magnets to collect metals, massive shredders, and even eddy current separators that help separate non-ferrous metals from regular waste.

Landfills

North America is the top producer of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in the entire world, generating about 301 million tons of trash every year. According to studies from the Environmental Protection Agency, anywhere from 52 to 55 percent of MSW winds up in landfills.

Unfortunately, landfills aren’t designed to break down waste. They’re designed to store it. Most landfills are built into the ground and lined with clay or plastic to isolate the trash from the environment. They’re often bisected with drains and pipes designed to collect leachate – the wastewater that drains from a landfill. Leachate has its own rules and regulations for collection and disposal and is a very important concern for any landfill operator.

When a layer of a landfill reaches its capacity, it is covered in plastic and topped with soil and plants. While the garbage will eventually decompose – it will take a very long time. Partially because a large portion of the waste that ends up in landfills is naturally slow to decompose, and partially because the decomposition process is slowed down in the oxygen-free environment underground.

Waste-To-Energy Plants

Most Waste-to-Energy plants are composed of massive, industrial furnaces known as trash incinerators, designed to burn MSW. Around 13 percent of MSW ends up in these incinerators – burned to ash in chambers that operate at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

Not only does this process produce extra heat that can be used to heat and power our cities, but it also greatly reduces the volume of the waste, which in turn significantly reduces the landfill space it would otherwise occupy.

Some other methods of producing energy through waste include anaerobic generators that turn organic materials into energy through biological processes, and wastewater treatment plants that use similar microorganisms to contribute to the power grid.

Recycling Facilities 

According to the EPA, roughly 35 percent of MSW makes its way to a recycling facility. This also includes composting facilities, as they operate under the same basic premise – reuse waste to create new products. While recycling facilities primarily focus on items such as paper, glass, aluminum and plastics, composters use agricultural and food waste to create compost.

Recycling rates have been on the rise since the 1980s, and some of the largest cities in North America have extremely ambitious, large-scale recycling systems. In fact, the top five recycling cities in the United States divert 60 to 80 percent of their waste away from landfills and into recycling facilities.

Unfortunately, there are many types of waste that can’t be recycled and plenty of stresses regarding contamination. Recycling facility operators need to be extremely diligent with what they accept. For example, plastics must be clean to be recycled. A plastic container with food waste inside could contaminate thousands of pounds of otherwise perfectly reusable material. Some other items to keep out of your recycling bins include paper soiled by food, plastic bags, electronics, batteries and lightbulbs.

Are hiring algorithms right for your business?

You may remember in 2018 Amazon announced it was ditching its hiring algorithm due to apparent sexist outcomes of the online recruitment process. This is the exact opposite of the intended result of hiring algorithms, which are created to remove human bias and margin of error from the equation when searching for the best job candidate. Popular services like Monster and Zip Recruiter offer companies the use of their AI to make their hiring process easier and more fair.

As an article in Harvard Business Review explains, there are a lot of small tasks that hiring algorithms carry out. The article says that algorithms can “play different roles throughout this process: Some steer job ads toward certain candidates, while others flag passive candidates for recruitment. Predictive tools parse and score resumes, and help hiring managers assess candidate competencies in new ways, using both traditional and novel data.”

Hiring algorithms can automate some rather tedious labor and save time and money for people in human resources and executive positions. As Richard Marr, chief technology officer for recruitment platform Applied, told Forbes, “If done well, [using hiring algorithms] not only means efficiency savings but could also mean benefits for candidates such as quick responses and meaningful feedback.”

As great as this sounds, this software can actually preserve traditional biases that impact the hiring process, such as “amplifying disadvantages lurking in data points like university attendance or performance evaluation scores.” Thankfully, at the end of the day, humans still have the final decision in who gets hired.

Even the minds behind online recruitment service Monster admit that hiring algorithms are not a perfect solution to everyone’s hiring needs. The company posted an article to its website, judging the benefits and limitations for companies looking to use it. The article admits that there will always be the human temptation to overrule the algorithm.

“Who wants to hire a candidate — top-rated by a bloodless software application — who struck the hiring manager as somehow just not right for the job?” The article asks.  “Almost no one wants that. This situation presents a conundrum for HR and company executives.”

Monster’s advice for companies looking to use a hiring algorithm is to properly train their Human Resources departments and other individuals involved in the hiring process in how to balance the data given by the software with their natural instincts.

So is this technology the right fit for your business? It can save you time and money, but can also have some potentially negative impacts when used incorrectly. Since Amazon dropped its software because of the gendered bias, lots of research and development has gone into making these algorithms better; but they will never be perfect without the attention and training on behalf of the user. If you believe that you can balance the limitations of this software with its benefits, it might be a great tool for your business.

Types of Waste

landfillWaste is something most people don’t want to think about. For the majority, waste is a by-product of what we do want to talk about. It’s something we’d rather not handle, think about, and certainly not smell – but it’s a necessary evil.

Few people have the time to monitor the associated costs on an ongoing basis, and it’s not an easy job if you aren’t familiar with the industry. For our purposes as waste disposal and expense reduction experts, waste is separated into 12 different categories. Below are the types of waste and how they’re typically collected.

Garbage:

Garbage is what most of us think about when we hear the term waste. Regular trashcan garbage created by one or multiple people is known as Municipal Solid Waste, or MSW. Pre-consumer waste is known as Non-Municipal Solid Waste (NMSW) and is generated in the production of products.

Liquid wastes such as wastewater, fats, oil and grease, used oil, gases, sludges, or hazardous substances like cleaning fluids or pesticides also count as garbage, and they are typically collected and taken to a materials processing facility, transfer station or landfill disposal site.

Recycling:

Most people understand the basic concept of recycling – the conversion of waste materials into new materials and objects. Recycling benefits the world by preventing the waste of potentially useful items and reducing our overall consumption of raw materials.

Most cities across North America have recycling programs, and some major recyclable items include paper, cardboard, glass, bottles, jars, tin cans, aluminium foil, and certain plastics.

Compost:

In basic terms, compost is organic matter gathered to allow to decompose in a relatively contained environment. It has many great benefits as a soil conditioner, and it’s very rich in nutrients for plant life.

Compost includes fruits and vegetables, meat (including bones) bread, flowers, leaves, coffee and tea, dairy, hair, egg shells and food-soiled paper towels. Some things that aren’t included are liquids, bio-plastics, sawdust, wood, grass clippings with herbicide, or dead animals.

Many cities have Green Bin programs that keep food waste out of our landfills. Instead, it’s used to help growth in our gardens and parks.

Metal:

Unlike a lot of the others on this list, metal has monetary value, especially recovered metals that can be melted down and reused. Many major metal manufacturers end up selling their leftover scrap metal to recyclers who know the market value and will pay to take it off their hands.

Many places across North America also require scrappers to carry a scrap metal license before they can handle scrap professionally.

Electronics:

Electronic or e-waste is mainly comprised of discarded electrical or electronic devices. Some examples include appliances, light bulbs, TVs, computers, screens, phones, alarm clocks, and watches.

While these items also have monetary value, they are also intrinsically more dangerous to handle and dispose of than your average metal waste. Potentially harmful substances like lead, beryllium and cadmium are often used in electronics, and great care must be taken by those who handle e-waste in order to avoid unsafe exposure.

Shredding:

Most businesses shred files for safety reasons. Unfortunately, paper shreds cannot be placed in the recycle bin with the rest of your paper waste. Most recycling centers don’t accept small strips of paper because the large scale recycling facilities use very large screens to dry recycled paper, and the small shreds tend to fall through the screens.

Alternatives to office shredding include professional shredding services, which are available for around $1 per pound of paper. Professionals shred on a large enough scale that the shreds can be combined and recycled.

Wood:

Wood is a solid waste, and while it can be disposed of in a landfill, there are better options. While you can reuse and recycle wood, there are also options such as biomass-to-energy and wood processing facilities. Burning wood is fairly clean compared to most fossil fuels (though it still does result in emissions!) and taking your wood to a processing facility will often cost less than simply disposing it in a landfill!

Hazardous:

Corrosive, explosive, poisonous, flammable – hazardous waste is, well, hazardous.

Some examples include paints, chemicals, tires, batteries, light bulbs, appliances, aerosol cans, fertilizers and freon.

Most cities and towns have dedicated acceptance days for hazardous materials – check your cities website for dates. When transporting hazardous materials, they should be tightly sealed in their original containers and never allowed to mix. Trained professionals should be available to accept these materials on those assigned days, and they will be ready to package, transport and store these materials safely.

Toxic:

While all toxic waste is hazardous, not all hazardous waste is toxic. In waste terms, “toxic” is used to describe waste that, when ingested or absorbed, is harmful or fatal to living organisms. While the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is able to designate any waste hazardous as they deem fit, and many toxic wastes would fall under that general umbrella, they also have another law for mitigating harm to the public caused by specifically toxic wastes.

Some examples of toxic waste include lead-based paint, radon, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, pesticides and herbicides.

Biomedical:

Biomedical waste is any that includes blood or tissue from operating rooms, morgues, laboratories or any other medical facilities. It could also include anything used in treating a patient – from bedding to hospital gowns.

Biomedical is further separated into four categories (general medical waste, infectious medical waste, hazardous medical waste and radioactive medical waste) and has incredibly strict laws surrounding its handling and segregation.

Medical waste is handled by specifically trained, license-holding professionals.

Agricultural:

Produced as a result of various agricultural options, agricultural waste includes materials such as manure, poultry and slaughterhouse runoff, harvest waste, fertilizer runoff, and pesticides, salt and silt drained from fields.

It also includes general farm waste related to the growing of crops or raising of animals – vegetable waste, grape vines, fruit bearing trees and palm fronds.

Most agricultural waste, including animal carcasses, is handled directly by the farm owners and workers, but is still regulated by the government for safety.

Industrial:

Industrial waste is generally described as waste that was produced by an industrial activity, and includes materials that have been rendered useless during a manufacturing process. Factories, mills, mining operations and industries all produce industrial waste.

Dirt and gravel, solvents, chemicals, scrap lumber – these items can be hazardous or benign, and are often mixed with regular municipal waste.


Each of these categories are composed of sub-categories, all with different rules and regulations in regards to disposal, storage and care. At the end of the day – no matter how much we want to brush it under the rug – waste will be with humanity until its end. So it’s best that we keep it in mind.