A smart way to cut down on garbage trucks

| June 6, 2014

Since we’re always trying to recycle as much as possible, our garbage cans aren’t typically filled to the brim come garbage day. And yet, without fail, the garbage trucks come rumbling down the street like an exhaust-riddled alarm clock to pick up the (sometimes half-empty) can.

One innovative IT guru, software consultant, and “inveterate tinkerer” has a plan that could significantly cut down on the number of garbage trucks roaming the streets.

Sam Saha wants to reduce the number of garbage trucks on the street. From Eden, Janine and Jim.

Sam Saha wants to reduce the number of garbage trucks on the streets. From Eden, Janine and Jim.

Sam Saha developed a sensor that can determine whether or not a garbage can is full enough to warrant pick-up. It’s a simple idea with massive implications. If a trash can isn’t full, can it wait until next week? What if half of New York City can wait until next week? That would dramatically reduce the number of garbage trucks on the road, which would, in turn, reduce city expenditure as well as the carbon footprint of the garbage operation. (Of course, it might also cut jobs, but that’s an unfortunate potential side effect that is outside the scope of this blog post.)

Saha’s device is a disk that can be mounted on top of trash cans. It uses sonar technology to determine whether or not a trash can is full, and it transmits the measurement data to a web application so it can be tracked. The tracking application is important, because it could tell garbage companies which houses or streets routinely produce less than a week’s worth of garbage and can afford to be skipped.

It’s a nascent idea, and not without drawbacks. (We can think of one right off the bat: if your garbage can is only half-full but it’s half-full of dirty diapers, you might still want it to be picked up.)

However, many people think Saha is definitely on to something. He’s showcasing his design at O’Reilly’s Solid Conference in San Francisco. More importantly, perhaps, it attracted the attention of Wired Magazine. Saha’s sensor landed a feature written by Marcus Wohlsen, who says that Saha’s effort fits nicely into the growing trend of The Internet of Things, the “sweeping effort to improve our lives through a new world of networked devices, from watches and glasses to thermostats and fire alarms.”

Right now, Saha’s entire program would cost about $15 per trash can. That’s a lot of money, but in order to determine true value, one would have to take into account the economics of skipping superfluous trash pick-ups.

Even if the trash business doesn’t jump at the opportunity to develop Saha’s idea, the designer thinks it has other applications as well. He can think of myriad products and services that could benefit from remote, Internet-connected, sensor-based monitoring, including tracking vending machine product levels and even air pollution levels.

We have a feeling that this won’t be the last we hear of Sam Saha.

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Category: Regulations

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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