McDonald’s restaurants are putting cameras in their dumpsters and trash containers in an effort to improve their recycling efforts and save money on waste collection. Nordstrom department stores are doing this as well.
(CNN Business) Jason Gates spends a lot of his time thinking about trash, and how we can generate less of it.
Since 2013 his San Francisco-based startup, Compology, has used cameras and artificial intelligence to monitor what’s thrown into dumpsters and trash containers at businesses such as McDonald’s restaurants and Nordstrom department stores. The point is to make sure dumpsters are actually full before they’re emptied and to stop recyclable materials like cardboard from being contaminated by other junk so it, too, doesn’t become waste.
“We’ve found that most businesses and people have the right intentions about recycling, but oftentimes they just don’t know what the proper way to recycle is,” Gates, CEO of Compology, told CNN Business’ Rachel Crane.
To help them do it correctly, Compology puts trash-monitoring cameras and sensors inside industrial waste containers. The cameras take photos several times each day and when the container is lifted for dumping. An accelerometer helps trigger the camera on garbage day.
AI software analyzes the images to figure out how full the container is and can also let a customer know when something is where it shouldn’t be, such as a bag of trash tossed into a dumpster filled with cardboard boxes for recycling. Gates said the company’s cameras can cut the amount of non-recyclable materials thrown in waste containers by as much as 80%.
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While this seems like a noble effort toward efficiency and environmental preservation, it’s worth mentioning that the same type of technology can eventually be used for compulsory garbage sorting and waste disposal that targets individual people themselves, not only the trash. Trends in A.I. waste management could easily become far more invasive as “smart bins” proliferate as part of the Internet of Things. This can even be extended into a social credit system, as was discussed in Smithsonian Mag back in 2017: