Recycle or Else? Big Brother to Pick Through Trash

High-tech trash carts expose Cleveland residents who don't recycle.

ByABC News
August 26, 2010, 1:20 PM

Aug. 26, 2010— -- Big Brother has gotten down and dirty to make sure Cleveland residents recycle.

As part of a $2.5 million waste-collection system, the city plans to give residents high-tech trash carts embedded with RFID (radio frequency identification) tags that monitor how much they recycle.

If Clevelanders don't recycle enough of their garbage, the city now has the power to issue $100 fines.

"Our whole force here is to encourage residents to properly use their containers and, when they do, that makes our system more efficient," Waste Collection Commissioner Ronnie Owens said.

"We're going to run reports on who this particular truck picked up from today and if it indicates on a consistent basis that your household hasn't been recycling, then we have officers that I will send out … to check and see what's going on."

The city launched a pilot program in 2007 for 15,000 households to test chip-embedded trash and recycling containers. The city council voted last week to extend the program to 25,000 households and, potentially, continue until all city residents participate in the automated, curbside pick-up program.

Owens said the new program will not only help the city protect the environment and deliver public services more efficiently, but also reap big savings. While it costs the city $30 per ton to haul trash away, the city actually gets paid $26 per ton to recycle.

"We're asking for folks to do a culture change, basically, instead of throwing everything away, take one extra step and put it in a different container," he said.

Using the RFID tags, the trash and recycling carts can be weighed and accounted for by trucks fitted with compatible technology.

The information can help the city track its staff's performance, as well as keep tabs on its residents' recycling habits.

"If we go, say, maybe four or six weeks without seeing any recycling out there and we also see that you're using the [waste] cart but you still have extra garbage on the ground, that will lead us to go ahead and inspect your garbage to verify whether you're recycling or not," Owens said.