TOKYO: Japan’s Environment Ministry plans to start trials of a garbage collection method using self-driving technology in fiscal 2021, informed sources have said.
The ministry aims to develop the method involving garbage trucks with an automatic tracking function following workers.
Such a function will help reduce the number of times workers get into and out of garbage trucks to collect waste. The ministry hopes to solve a serious labor shortage by lightening the burden on sanitary workers.
The ministry will spend three years discussing the technological aspects of the method and kick off legal formalities with other government departments.
The ministry hopes to introduce the method at municipalities throughout the country as early as fiscal 2024, the sources said.
About 20,000 municipal workers and 240,000 company employees engage in garbage collection in Japan.
It is becoming difficult to find people willing to become sanitation workers because of the physically tough work and the country’s declining birthrate and aging population.
In some municipalities with financial difficulties, some garbage collectors work alone, doubling up as truck driver and garbage collector.
Many municipalities have also switched to a system in which garbage is collected in front of each home, rather than at a conventional collection point for multiple households, so that it will be easier for elderly residents to put out garbage.
The change has increased sanitation workers’ workload as they have to stop their trucks frequently.
In view of the situation, the ministry hopes to work out a way to streamline garbage collection using self-driving technology, according to the sources.
The ministry will openly invite automakers to take part in the trials in or after April this year. The selection will be completed around summer.
Some automakers have already developed vehicles with auto-tracking functions.
The ministry plans to have sanitation workers participate in the trials, which will be limited to specially prepared test areas in fiscal 2021.
From fiscal 2022, the new garbage collection method will be tested in the field at some municipalities that applied to host the tests.
The ministry aims to introduce the new system on a full-scale in fiscal 2024 after making sure that the vehicles will be able to operate under various road conditions.
The ministry is planning to offer financial support for municipalities that will introduce self-driving garbage trucks.