Keeping an Eye On (and In) Recycling Bins

A Florida town tests a monitoring system that makes sure its residents are recycling properly.

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Reuters

It costs $42 for the city of Lake Worth, Florida, to dispose of a ton of garbage. But for every ton of recyclable material the city collects, it can earn about $10, which is why Lake Worth is launching a renewed effort to encourage and even reward recycling among its residents. And they’re using a new type of waste management technology to make sure it happens.

The city, located in southeast Florida, is launching a one-year pilot program that will bar-code and track the recycling bins at about 9,000 households, and even use video monitoring to make sure that what’s in those bins is actually recyclable. As The Miami Herald reports, the tracking system will be used to note which households are recycling – and recycling correctly – and potentially to offer a rebate or other incentive to encourage more recycling.

The more recycling the city’s able to collect, the less it has to pay for garbage disposal, which is seen as justification for the roughly $150,000 cost of installing and using this tracking system.

To track the bins, bar codes will be assigned to each one. Two of the city’s waste management trucks will then be retrofitted with bar code readers, as well as a video monitoring system that will be able to inspect the contents of bins.

A small monitoring camera allows drivers to make sure the material placed in the recycling container is recyclable. If someone puts grass clippings in a recycling container, for example, the driver can press a button so the homeowner is not credited for recycling that day.

The tracking program is similar to another recycling initiative in Cleveland, which The Atlantic Cities covered back in September. In that program, recycling bins are affixed with bar codes and radio frequency identification chips to track how much recycling is happening. Rather than incentivizing recycling, as they’re hoping to do in Lake Worth, Cleveland’s program disincentivizes not recycling by levying citations and fines against homeowners who aren’t recycling enough, as Matt Stroud reported.

Using the radio frequency chips, employees of the city’s Waste Collection Department would visit homes with inactive recycling bins and sift through their garbage. If the garbage contained more than 10 percent recyclable materials, offenders would be fined $100. Heftier fines of $250 or $500 could be attached to claims that households threw away excessive amounts of trash or too much yard waste.

Though Lake Worth’s program is only a pilot, officials there are hopeful that the tracking system will lead to a citywide program and citywide rebates.

Photo credit: Michaela Rehle / Reuters

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.