Next generation technologies: Spotlight on in-bin cameras

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Transition to an Individual Producer Responsibility (IPR) framework, China Sword policies, and COVID-19 are all contributing to a challenging and uncertain environment for Ontario municipalities operating blue box programs. Despite this, municipalities continue to deliver services and maintain program performance. To help ensure continued efficiency and effectiveness of recycling systems there are some new technologies that merit consideration.

In partnership with the Regional Public Works Commissioners of Ontario (RPWCO), the CIF hired EcoCompass Inc., supported by Holliday Recycling Technologies and Francis Veilleux, to research and evaluate several next generation recycling technologies. The research explored the utility and limitations of the equipment to improve blue box program performance.  For a preview of what’s in the report, this blog profiles one of these technologies: in-bin cameras.

For a copy of the final report, contact Carrie Nash.


In-bin cameras monitor for fullness and contamination

With this new technology, a camera is placed inside a roll-off container or compactor. Equipped with GPS and AI software, the camera not only monitors the content of the bins for fullness but also for contamination. The camera has a robust plastic casing that is weatherproof, waterproof, impact and corrosion resistant. The wide-angle, flash-enabled camera captures clear pictures of the materials and can identify approximately six contamination types. A tilt sensor also captures when the bin is serviced. This resets the system, telling it the bin has been emptied, and the monitoring of the bin’s fullness can begin again.


Remote monitoring useful at multi-residential buildings and unstaffed depots

In-bin cameras can benefit municipalities that service multi-residential buildings or unstaffed drop-off depots with front end loading bins, roll-off containers and/or compactors. Municipalities servicing these types of bins have had significant challenges dealing with contamination. The cameras provide insights into the composition of materials inside the bins in situations where it would be impractical and/or costly to send staff out to monitor problematic sites. The use of cameras also bypasses the need to lift the lid to look inside.

Users can log into a web-based service to see daily status updates on each bin. Daily reports can be sent to depot staff or multi-residential property managers to address contamination placed in bins. Drivers can also be informed if contamination levels are high to ensure the load is sorted prior to being tipped at a MRF or rerouted altogether. With detailed reporting, municipalities can more efficiently schedule pick-ups and take action against repeat offenders with contamination issues (i.e., charge an extra fee to specific multi-family buildings).


System is robust, but has limitations

While the system can be effective, there are limitations. The AI technology is limited in its ability to recognize a wide range of contamination and bulky items placed in front of the camera or a scratch on the casing will result in false-reads. Typically, a message is sent to staff, who then manually check for fullness or contamination before a truck is deployed. For rural communities relying on unstaffed drop-off depots, stable cell reception can also be a barrier to effective use of these cameras.


Other next generation technologies

In bin cameras were evaluated as part of a larger project that looked at next generation technologies in various stages of development. In total, 41 technologies were identified that address growing concerns on the impacts of contamination and the changing mix of materials, while considering the timing and cost to implement in the lead up to transition.

The full report provides an in-depth look at eight of the next generation technologies identified, including:

  • RFID equipped trucks and bins;
  • optical sorter upgrades;
  • artificial intelligence and robotics;
  • black plastic optical sorters;
  • front-load automated collection;
  • scalping screens; and,
  • non-wrapping screens.

For a copy of the final report, with details on all the next generation technologies mentioned, contact Carrie Nash.

This topic was presented at the Ontario Recycler Workshop

View the full presentation here.


How can municipalities evaluate potential technology investments?

When considering investments of any kind, municipalities can consider these key questions:

  • Is contamination increasing your processing costs?
  • Is the payback period within the timeframe before transition?
  • Will the investment make us a more attractive service provider to a PRO post-transition?
  • Can the equipment be re-sold if we do not become a service provider post-transition?
  • What happens if the investment is not made and market requirements get stricter?

The CIF is interested in municipal feedback on the potential to pilot new technologies.

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