Big Brother In Your Garbage Cans

from the rfid-me dept

Reader Stan alerted us to a recent report out of Cleveland, where the city will apparently be placing RFID chips in recycling bins to monitor whether or not you’ve been a good little earth saver lately. The way it works, apparently, is that the system will monitor whether or not you bring your recycling bin to the curb, and if you haven’t in a while, “a trash supervisor will sort through the trash for recyclables” on the assumption that if you’re not recycling, you’re probably throwing stuff out. After checking those trash cans for recyclables, if more than 10 percent recyclable material is found, a $100 fine could be assessed to the home owner.

Not surprisingly, the reasoning for this has a lot more to do with money than saving the earth’s resources:

Recycling is good for the environment and the city’s bottom line, officials said. Cleveland pays $30 a ton to dump garbage in landfills, but earns $26 a ton for recyclables.

While perhaps it’s a good thing to see something “good” like recycling line up with a way for the city to earn extra money, it still seems pretty intrusive to monitor how often people recycle.

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Comments on “Big Brother In Your Garbage Cans”

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thornintheside says:

Disable the chip

Just disable the chip. They can then send someone out to check your garbage every week and spend more taxpayer money on nothing. What a complete waste of taxpayer dollars, people should be outraged. Of course, the RFID’s will be hackable and of course there will be privacy concerns. What a joke the government in Cleveland is. Cleveland doesn’t rock, it sucks.

Chucklebutte (profile) says:


My trash, my choice! My town would drive by and take pics of my trash cans and send me scary letters threatening me. SOrry but you give me 2 trash cans, ima use 2 trash cans for trash… Not to mention that those damn cans are bum magnets, every trash night we would be armed with our hoses waiting, because those damn bums would just make the biggest messes and me, the home owner is responsible for clean up, not the city! Great, good for you and your bottom line, but what about my bottom line? So either I get a shake down from my local government, or continue to feed the homeless booze machine…

Sean T Henry (profile) says:

Re: Sigh....

In most places it is illegal to remove recyclables from a recycling bin/dumpster, although it would cost more to lock the bums up than just let them do it.

If the city wants people to recycle then do not punish them for not doing it reward them by sharing the funds by reducing the cost to have the trash removed for those who recycle.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Garbage Police

> Nice to know that Cleveland is in such great economic shape that
> they can afford Garbage Police.

Oh, the story gets even better. This program wasn’t funded by Cleveland. It was funded by all of us through our federal tax dollars. This was funded by the $800 billion stimulus boondoggle, just as it was in Dayton.

Griff (profile) says:

Is it just me...

…or is is screamingly obvious to everyone that if I have something I want to throw out that will get me a fine, I’ll put it in somebody else’s garbage when oone is looking.

If someone wanted to fine me for the contents of my garbage can, I’d want the right to lock my can until the collectors arrive. And that would create such a mess it’d be counterproductive.

It would also encourage “fly tipping” (where people just throw rubbish out by the side of the road when no-one is around).

As someone I know says often CwH, RtR
– Connect with householders
– Give them a reason to recycle

Some UK local authorities make people wash the labels off metal food cans before recycling the cans. Apart from the fact this is environmentally insane (a central facility would do the same job using less power and water) it is such a demand on people’s time they just don’t bother.

My current local authority are fairly sane. They give out unlimited free green sacks and there’s a list of things that you can put in them, no separating required. Anything NOT recyclable goes in the good old fashioned “Wheelie bin” (aka “other”) but the idea is that the allowance for that (or collection frequency) is steadily shrinking. With a family of 5 it takes me 3 weeks to fill the “other” bin.

But there’s a huge disparity between areas regarding garbage collection labour.

In Melbourne, Australia a garbage truck with a giant robot arm would screech up next to my kerb, grab the wheelie bin and tip it in the truck. A single driver did the whole neighbourhood. Here in the UK, the truck crawls along the street with 2-4 men on foot accompanying it.

Maybe it’s a union thing…

vilain (profile) says:

keeping the bums at bay

My condo association was able to go from 2yd^3 bins for trash to 2 2yd&3, 1 for trash and one for paper. It cost us less per month for the paper+trash so we did it. It requires the residents be mindful and separate their trash from their paper recycling. Every once and a while we get some lazy-ass renter throwing everything in the recycling bin and have to yell at the landlord. I don’t see an easy way to enforce the lazy-asshole element to recycle except charging more per-pickup up front (make recycling bins free but don’t empty them if there’s obviously trash in them and charge slightly more per trash bin 66%).

Bill Peterson says:

It's not your garbage can.

RFID chips may or may not be a good idea. But it’s not your garbage or recycling receptecle. it probably belongs to the service provider. Like other utilities, this service has RULES. Live with them. Just as you do for every other utility including cable, phone, sewage, water, etc. If you think this is intrusive, imagine how intrusive it would be to have to dispose of your own garbage. And imagine the stink and pests in your neighborhood when people throw their garbage out back! Most of you live in densely populated cities or suburbs where living like a cowboy isn’t an option. If you don’t like it move 75 miles from a city to some unregulated area and throw your garbage and recyclables in your back yard!

Richard (profile) says:

Re: I don't know...

Sounds like you just needed something to complain on today.

What you are saying is that you would rather be able to break the law without anyone checking you.

But it’s not your garbage or recycling receptecle. it probably belongs to the service provider. Like other utilities, this service has RULES. Live with them. Just as you do for every other utility including cable, phone, sewage, water, etc.

You both miss the point here. The problem is that anyone can throw rubbish in your bin. (Or steal the contents of your recycle bin to pad their own.)

Recycling may be a good thing, but petty, vindictive and flawed enforcement schemes will antagonise the people and give recycling a bad reputation.

If the rules are stupid then you have to get them changed – for the sake of the reputation of the local authority and the concept of recycling as much as anything.

Complaining here is the first step.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: I don't know...

Recycling tin is a good thing, recycling glass is an almost good thing, recycling plastic causes more problems then it solves (from an environmental standpoint).

I guess it’s different in Cleavland, but here we pay to have the garbage men take our garbage. We pay for the bins and we pay for the cans. Our garbage company pays for the land it dumps on. I don’t know what they do with the recyclables, but last I heard the city pays for that. How is the city gaining money by recycling?

Wig says:

Re: Re: I don't know...

Hm. Maybe I was too fast, but I live in Belgium, and over here recycling garbage is the norm, not the exception.

The system’s we’re using have
– locked garbage bins; you and the garbage collector truck can open it, your neighbor can’t.
– your bin is registered to your name, so swapping it with another will not solve anything.
– you pay to have your garbage collected by the weight (every kg = x EUR).
– you have specific bins per type of recyclable items (iron, paper, garden/kitchen, …) and another for the ‘rest’ (which is the more expensive one).
– the contents of the bins is inspected from time to time to make sure everybody plays fair.

When these systems were introduced, everybody complained that they would be unfair, expensive, intrusive, easy to cheat with…
Now (just a couple of years later), the complaints are (mostly) gone and the benefits are visible: less overall garbage / person & more recycled / person.

And just to be clear: the technology is far from perfect; we are still searching for ways to improve it. But starting somewhere, anywhere, even if it is not optimal, is better than not starting at all!

Simon says:

Ya gotta love Cleveland...and it's trash....

I have lived in Cleveland for well over 30 years and have witness the idiocy of Cleveland politics. This isn’t about the city saving money, nor is it about saving the planet. It is about greedy politicians bilking money out of the populace.

Several years ago there was a voluntary program that utilized the “blue plastic bags” that one would get when purchasing goods at the grocery store. It failed miserably and was dropped do to the extreme expense of collection and then further sorting at the recycling center. Most of the material still ended up in the landfill, just sorted into like materials.

Since then, and actually for as long as I can remember, there have been junkers that drive through on trash day, mostly looking for metal and appliances. So will this program put those folks out of business? Or, will it stream line their collections? Will I be fined for them taking my recyclables? What if I recycle my paper and metals for my own profit?

Welcome to the Peoples Republic of Kleveland

astroboi says:

Cleveland's obsession with trash

I’ve lived in Cleveland and an “inner ring” suburb for decades. This area has always had a fascination with garbage, cooking up endless laws and rules about its handling. My councilman was sometimes referred to as “councilman Trashcan” because each year he presented each home with an 8 page booklet detailing all the rules about garbage. In the past Cleveland has set the Cuyahoga river and the mayor’s hair on fire and hosted one of the very few big city bond defaults. In this tradition Cleveland now makes itself an international laughingstock with this silly attempt to cure their financial problems by selling their garbage. And it won’t work. Already forums in the local papers are suggesting “token recycling” whereby a a few scavenged cans are presented in the bin each week so the homeowner can be technically compliant. And while the city harvests their beer cans, tons of scrap steel heads for the landfill because they have no way to sort and sell it.

I moved to the neighboring county to escape the madness of the criminal scandals and money problems of Cuyahoga county. Yet the neighboring county is obsessed with putting a major paper company out of business because they are paying non-profit organizations to host scrap paper collection bins. The county created a facility to process paper and it is losing money. Therefore they blame anybody who succeeds where they have failed. They hope to pass a law forbidding the export of scrap paper across county borders.

Scrap and garbage is the new battleground, for while out of work people may have no more money to be taxed, they DO have garbage. Cleveland may be the first, but they won’t be the last.

Brandon says:

Recycling is bad for the economy and questionable for the earth

I hate to use TV shows to prove points but Penn and Teller Bullshit! covered this whole recycling bit pretty well. Let me be clear I support recycling and not trashing lots of items, such and computers and metals, stuff that is unsafe to incinerate or won’t decompose.

Regardless, Recycling is just plain bad for the economy, thats a fact. The whole paying 30$ a ton for garbage and receiving 26$ for recyclables is extremely misleading. First off, they’re getting ripped off by their garbage collection who actually uses the trash to create their product, which is energy produced by all the methane in the decomposing trash. (Point – The trash collectors want your trash, because they actually make a product with it – good for the economy).
Second, getting paid 26$ for recyclables is crazy, and you only get that much because of subsidies, so good job paying yourself. Nobody in their right mind would buy trash to get the plastics for 26$ because there still has not been a single competitive business in the recycled plastics industry, unless the government is involved. And the government is very involved because recycling “creates jobs,” so recycle because that means someone gets the glorious job of sorting through your trash.

Until someone can get consumers to purchase goods made with recycled plastics even though they’re more expensive and only slightly better for the environment, Recycling just will not be a productive, efficient, or effective method of getting rid of our trash.

Brandon says:

Business vs Government

I did not mention, and this is the real reason I’d personally rather pay waste management than get paid for recyclables is that waste management is a business – they perform a much needed service to society and we pay for that service. They also almost always produce electricity, lowering all of our energy costs.

Recycling is not a business, it’s a government run public service. Their goal is not to make a profit, and they don’t. They don’t have a product that people want, (they actually pay you to use their product) and the only way they’re able to sell their products made from recycled plastics is because the government creates artificial demand.

All this has little to do with the article except that its absolutely insane to pull a stunt like this for economic reasons when terminating the recycling program would actually be a huge benefit to the economy.

Brandon says:

One more thing

My last point is this fact – that a piece of plastic is more useful in an incinerator than getting recycled! One of the benefits of plastic is that its extremely cheap to make, thats why everyone uses it so much. It is much easier and cheaper to make new plastic bottles and such than to collect, clean, and do all the work involved with recycling.

Plastic generally contains a very high content of hydrogen, and when burned in an incinerator or a plasma generator it is one of the trash items that is most dense with usable energy.

So the choice is between collecting, cleaning, melting, and reworking plastic to produce a bottle more expensively than just making a new one or throwing it away and using it as energy.

I just don’t understand how the environmentalists ever convinced people this is good. I guess the government isn’t filled with the brightest…

nasch (profile) says:

Re: One more thing

One problem is that plastic is generally if not exclusively made from fossil fuels. Running out of oil to power our cars is one thing, but running out of oil to make plastic? Yikes, seems like everything has plastic in it now. Our current recycling strategies obviously won’t solve the problem, but simply burning the plastic we make is also not the answer.

Jeremy7600 (profile) says:

Wow, is it really that hard? I grew up recycling, I’m in my 30’s now and I’ve done it since I was 10 or 12. It will never be commonplace? You want someone else to pay you to sort it? What? Are you that fucking lazy?

I have 2 bins in my kitchen. They are right next to each other. If what I’ve said is already over your head, you’ve got bigger problems. So I have 2 bins, both next to each other. When I make dinner, or feed the cats, or whatever, its trivial to put the paper/glass/metal/plastic into the recycling and the garbage in the trash. If what I’ve said up to now is over your head or beyond your means, you are the laziest person I will have ever met. I don’t even have to think about it, since they are next to each other. It works in my kitchen. Maybe it doesn’t for you, but that’s not my problem, or the cities problem, or whatever, that’s your problem. The only time it takes is moving the recycling bin out once a week if its full.

Really, how hard is it to recycle? (and I’m not talking about the implications of RFID on your recycling bin)

And I already prefer to buy items that are made from recycled materials.

Maybe I’ve got it easy cause I grew up this way. Maybe I’m a freak. I thought it was pretty normal.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I grew up recycling, too, but on a farm. Food waste went out to the chickens. Glass, aluminum, steel and plastics went to the recycling center. Paper went to a local pig farmer who turned it into bedding for the pigs. Everything that wasn’t recylable we had to haul ourselves to the landfil.

Fast forward 20 years, and the city I now live in with my partner starts recycling initiatives. Not a problem. Set out a second bin, just like you, and do it. Gets us a break on our garbage collection to boot. So I totally agree with you. Complaining about it is just making you look lazy.

Scott999990 says:

Can't believe how lazy people are.

Are you people kidding me? For one, it sounds like the town picks up the garbage for you and you still live in the times where your taxes pay for everyone’s behavior. Try living in NY. If the attempts to recycle don’t work in Cleveland, then you’ll get stuck with the bright idea of deposits, where I have to not only separate out the recyclables, but also have to separate out cans with carbonation and water bottles to bring them separately to the store. What a waste of time! I could just put them in the recycle bin at the end of the driveway (I pay for certain amount of garbage to be picked up, and recyclables are free), but no, they want them to go separately. Now instead of most of the towns in NY going to a single stream recycling program where separation can be done automatically, they take the a portion of the valuable recyclable materials out of the stream and then it doesn’t make financial sense to recycle the rest because it needs to be done by hand.

wsuschmitt (profile) says:

Re: Can't believe how lazy people are.

In Seattle, we have to wash and dry all of our recyclables and can’t just throw them into a bin after use like you.

A two bin solution for us doesn’t happen. After washing and drying my garbage, THEN I’m allowed to recycle that waste stream… pain in the ass.

My recycling was much easier when I could just throw all recyclables in one bin and take it to the curb weekly. My recycling habits when I was in WI was probably 90% of recyclable products (I’d throw away beverage containers into the trash when in public since there weren’t any recycling areas in the public spaces). Now, I throw pretty much everything away since I’m not going to clutter up my kitchen with washed and then dried garbage that was meant for a recycling stream.

It’s not a matter of me being lazy, it is a matter of making it so obnoxious to recycle that I don’t do it anymore out of spite…

Go to one bin of recyclables in which I don’t have to wash them, and I’ll be back around 90% compliance…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Can't believe how lazy people are.

I agree 110% with how ridiculous the recycling regulations are. I live in a town that only recycles plastics 1 & 2, any cardboard recycled cannot be corrugated or wax coated, all glass must have the lid removed, be washed and dried, and have the label taken off. Then, they must all be separated into different recycling bins. The recycling fee’s on our property tax is outrageous. Anything else needs to be driven 15 miles to the recycling plant.

My wife, who is from Taiwan was shocked at how little is recycled here as well, they pick up and recycle so much more than we do, batteries, paint, styrofoam, all plastics, and they PAY you upon pickup, not the other way around.

If they want to really get people to recycle, stop making it a crime to not recycle, and instead reward people for recycling. America pretends its a good recycler, but they have the whole system backwards and can barely recycle anything, and now our privacy is beginning to be invaded because our politicians have their heads too far up their rear end to have unobtrusive solutions.

asymptote (profile) says:

single stream recycling

In Racine, WI, it’s called “single stream recycling” (there is a wiki article available). It started in April, with bins supplied by the City. The bins have RFID chips, with each bin assigned to a specific address. The chips are read as the bins are emptied into the truck. They said something about monitoring compliance, but we believe it’s because they want to encourage universal participation for revenue purposes. An article in the paper said that the program has already exceeded revenue expectations.

The practical result is that we have two waste streams: recyclables and non-recyclables. All recyclable materials, including paper, plastic and glass containers, and other miscellaneous recyclables, go into the bins, which are emptied every other week. The normal non-recyclable waste is picked up every week. Both waste streams are picked up on the same day of the week, but at different times during the day. I believe each truck drives the same route twice, once for each type of material — in any case, each material is picked up separately (I know because when I hear the trucks coming I go out to the front of the house to watch them).

I have no objection to the program. We’ve been keeping the bin in the back yard, but when winter comes we’ll probably keep it in the garage. It’s a slight hassle to wheel the bin to the curb, which will only get worse when the snow starts to pile up. (In the past we put the recyclables in blue plastic bags, which we carried to the curb weekly.)

I have no Big Brother concerns. (According to news reports, if somebody steals or swaps my bin, the system will eventually spit out an out-of-sequence event, which they will attempt to rectify, even going so far as to hunt down the errant bin.) As a payer of property taxes, I am in favor of saving money, which this program appears to be doing. And as a fan of Nature, I am happy to see that the rate of participation by city residents is significantly higher than it was prior to the advent of these bins. No worries here on this subject.

Spaceman Spiff (profile) says:

Pay or play

In our town we have to pay for trash pickup, but recycling is free. So, the more we recycle, the lower our costs for trash removal. On our weekly trash pickups, we (my wife and I – kids are grown and on their own) generally only have a barrel of trash every other week, but 1-2 tubs of recycling material every week. If we didn’t recycle, our trash removal costs would at least double, so the incentive is financial, not to mention we prefer to “keep green”.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Multiple billing accounts at the same address? Seems like that wouldn’t even be allowed. If you have multiple families at the same address, that’s for them to sort out. If you have multiple families in one structure such as a duplex, they would have separate addresses, and I assume their own trash cans, billing accounts, and RFID tags.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Rats, Rats, Rats!

Well, I already commented on this issue, one and two years ago.
response to:

What it comes down to is that food packages are being constantly redesigned to contain less metal and less glass, and that they increasingly tend to consist of thin layers of different kinds of materials. Old newspapers, the one economically successful element of recycling, are also going away as newspapers are driven out of business by the internet. One might add that in suburban areas, garbage disposals are the norm. If you are in the real estate business, they are one of those things which are easy to install, and make a property more attractive to sell or rent. The net effect is that the trash stream consists almost exclusively of soiled food packaging, burnables, in short.

Of course, in Cleveland, as in any other inner city, the kind of playing around with garbage to score political points, which the city fathers are going in for, is going to result in an epidemic of rats. Beady eyes. Bubonic plague. England has been playing these silly games for a while, but England seems to be one great big Monty Python movie… “produced by J. Fred Llama and forty South American Llamas.” I am no longer capable of being amazed by what the British government does.

okwhen (profile) says:

The two newest generation seem to have no problem with allowing anyone Government, Facebook, Google, etc track their every move. Then no one see to have a problem with the USA Patriot Act, warrant-less wiretapping, etc and now we are just starting to understand the true effects. Just as the courts ruled placing a tracking device on your vehicle does not require a warrant. People are tracked by RFID tags in your phone, purchases, GPS, notebooks and many more products. I wonder if the next generation will understand their parents action or lack of them in this case.

Russell Hammond says:


Here in Los Angeles there are thousands of scavengers who roam the city with their shopping carts rooting through all the recyclable garbage cans and taking everything before the garbage trucks ever collect anything. It’s illegal to remove recyclables from the garbage cans but as with most laws that our city leaders pass the police don’t actually enforce them saying they are too busy with more important crimes… and eating donuts.

Bradley Stewart (profile) says:

I'm Sorry Dave, I Can't Let You

put that in me. I can see the scene now. There you are dumping out your trash and a computer in your garbage can starts ordering you about. Your tired and say oh nuts and dump the stuff in anyway. The next scene a fleet of helicopters is suddenly hovering overhead. Dozens of heavily armed swat team members begin repelling down nylon cables surrounding you with the business end of their weapons pointed directly at you. In the final scene the last thing that you can remember as they drag you away are the patches on the shoulders of their sleeves. “GARBAGE POLICE”.

Anonymous Coward says:

What a ridiculous display of entitlement. Sound like most people have no trouble buying services from the city, but are unwilling to play by the rules associated. If you want to drive whatever speed you want, use a private road where there are no speed limits. If you want medical practices like trepanation, do it on private property not at a public hospital. If you want to throw away recyclable materials, dump your trash on your own property, not using city facilities. No one is forcing you to recycle. If you don’t like the rules, take your ball and go home.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“No one is forcing you to recycle.”

Actually, they are forcing you to recycle with the threat of a $100 fine for not doing so.

“…dump your trash on your own property, not using city facilities…”

These services are already paid with city property taxes. I do not believe they will let you opt out of this service.

DB says:

Four years late, but I felt compelled to comment anyway.

Seriously, GROW UP. Stop whining about this completely absurd metric you’ve chosen to measure your “liberty.” It’s not enough that the city gave you a free recycling bin? It’s not enough that the city picks up the recycling for free every week? People are STILL too lazy to sort their trash? Give me a break. Just BLEEPING RECYCLE already and stop complaining about the methods you’re forcing the city to use to get you to do it because you’re too stubborn to just do the right thing on your own.

Ben Johnson says:


@DB, you are so right about that! People are so lazy and they are only looking for anyone else to take care off their responsibilities! I work in a Rubbish Removal Company in London and sometimes I can’t believe my eyes! People are asking us to empty their mixed wheelie bins and sort out all the recyclable trash from it! Come on, is it really that hard to collect your garbage separately and once in a while to transport it to the nearest recycling center. Or just leave it to the council, but at least sort it out!

Ben Johnson from Rubbish Please

K Rogers (profile) says:

RFID garbage can locks!

The pickers, and my neighbors, and anyone else, contaminates my blue bins at will.

I would love to stop them, but have nowhere to contain the bins, which are shared.

Can we not put a lid lock that opens with an RFID key specific to me, general to the garbage and recycling trucks?

That would be awesome. I’ll leave the aluminum separate for the pickers. They have a hard life.

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