A Sydney council is going to extreme lengths to catch out residents putting the wrong things in their rubbish bins.
In an Australian first, the City of Canterbury-Bankstown in the city’s southwest has revealed it is installing artificial intelligence technology into garbage trucks, so it can examine kerbside bins to see if people have been recycling correctly.
“In the hopper we have a camera to check the contamination,” council waste operations manager Bob Tasker told Nine News.
Those who are caught not doing the right thing risk missing out on bin collection, with the council punishing those by either refusing to collect the bin, or taking the bin away altogether as residents undertake a recycling education program.
Mr Tasker told Nine News the driver of the rubbish collection truck could press a button on a computer screen and determine whether recycling was contaminated at a certain address.
Resource recovery education officer Tara Slattery told the network people would receive a smiley sticker on their bins if they had done the right thing, or a warning letter if they had contaminated their rubbish.
Bold plan criticised as ‘spying’
City of Canterbury-Bankstown’s mayor Khal Asfour has been forced to defend the council’s innovative plan after opponents expressed concerns over privacy and cost.
Some people on Facebook said problems would arise if neighbours dumped rubbish in a bin that didn’t belong to them.
Others claimed the rollout would be expensive and money should instead be put towards recycling education programs.
“I don’t expect this to go anywhere beyond a proof of concept, this is an exceptionally expensive use case with minimal returns,” one wrote.
“The software is expensive, the compute time is expensive, the fines if they are even issued are minimal. Money would be much better spent on an education campaign with some random spot checks.”
The mayor of another Sydney council also savaged the plan, saying it was an invasion of privacy.
“This is Australia, not a communist dictatorship,” Cumberland City Council mayor Steve Christou told 2GB radio.
“The realities are we are in the middle of a worldwide COVID pandemic and people are feeling the impacts of restrictions being placed upon them, and now to go out and openly spy on your residents?
“And the issue I have is it’s not specifically limited to recycling, these trucks are multi-purpose trucks, they could be picking up your normal waste bin at any given time.”
Cr Christou added he sympathised with the recycling problem, but believed there were other ways to send a message to residents.
“To reach into somebody’s home is an invasion of privacy, it’s an extension of reaching into somebody’s home,” he told 2GB.
Mayor says bin cameras ‘not an invasion of privacy’
Canterbury-Bankstown mayor Khal Asfour says the AI rollout was an invasion of privacy.
“This has nothing to do with spying on people, or invasion of privacy,” he told Yahoo News Australia.
“It’s about recycling right and doing the right thing. There are no fines, it’s about re-educating.
“AI technology will identify contaminants in the yellow bin, and allow council to work with the resident to re-educate them about what is and what isn’t allowed.
“We’ve seen people dumping paint, batteries, engines and all sorts of material in the yellow bin.
“How is identifying these items in a yellow bin an invasion of privacy?”
Other councils’ bold recycling tactics
In November Moreland City Council in Melbourne attached warning notices to recycling bins that had contaminated items that “do not belong”.
Some applauded the idea, while others claimed recycling ended up in landfill anyway.
In 2018, a council in Perth’s northern suburbs also launched a bold plan to make people think twice about the rubbish they were throwing away.
Mindarie Regional Council came up with the campaign Face Your Waste, which included transparent kerbside bins so people could see what was being tossed.
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