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The Spy Who Dumped Me
Jeremy Faludi, 16 Feb 05

The Guardian reports on a development in the UK that's earth-friendly but citizen-hostile: the embedding of sensors in dumpsters to see how much garbage is thrown away by a particular London borough.

"If the technology suggests that they are [throwing too much away], errant residents may be visited by officials bearing advice on how they might manage their rubbish more effectively...
Labour-led council Andrew Pelling...said: 'The Stasi or the KGB could never have dreamed of getting a spying device in every household.' "

The smart-bin would no doubt increase municipal recycling and reuse. People's habits change drastically when they know they're being watched. However, Britain is already one of the biggest in the world, and this would take them even further down that path. Is it worth the price?

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I do not see how this is any more intrusive than having your electricity metered. It would perhaps be more private to have households to take all of their rubbish to a dumpsite and pay per kilogram (perhaps broken down with different prices for different kinds of waste). I think that most people would prefer local pickup with a sensor.

Posted by: Jim Delaney on 16 Feb 05

One could envision a "pay as you go" bin, not unlike a coin-operated laundry machine. A chamber of a given volume could also contain a scale; the charge would be part fixed (based on volume), part variable (based on weight). The user could feed in coins or tokens, or use a debit card. No spying necessary, provides useful feedback to the generator of waste, without Big Brother.

Posted by: David Foley on 16 Feb 05

There's nothing intrusive about it. Garbage dumps and recycling facilities are public resources. Although I wouldn't suggest that anyone's trash should be rifled through (although there's nothing to stop that, as they are, in essence, giving their trashy goodness to somebody else to own and deal with), there's no harm in metering and charging for the volume. That's probably the best way to reduce garbage production, as it will give the consumer an impetus to complain about excessive packaging.

Posted by: nemo on 16 Feb 05

London, in addition to having more cameras per resident than anywhere else, has also integrated the 'congestion charging' plan, while England as a whole seems to be toying with GPS-based, pay-as-you-go car insurance. This puts them pretty far ahead in the realm of the 'digital shadow,' to use Roger Clarke's term.

The real issue is avoiding function creep: how do you make sure that only the right people (whatever this really means) get to access whatever data is collected? Otherwise, the marketing potential is obvious.

However, the environmental potential is interesting. But what about source separation, composting, and waste reduction? Is this just a technological fix to a multifaceted problem? If it's a recognized problem, is there a better response that could be made while the budget dollars are available?

Posted by: Hans Samuelson on 17 Feb 05



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