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AI is making inroads into almost every area of our lives and litter is no exception. With litter clean up costing local authorities in England £800 million, we need a solution to the problem, and fast. But will AI ever take care of public rubbish bins?
Fixed penalties are already in place for littering in England. However, the perpetrators often don’t get caught. Enter Littercam, a new technology that uses AI to analyse CCTV footage and help councils issue fines.
Eight councils in England are trialling the new technology to catch motorists who throw litter from their cars. Around two millions pieces of litter are dropped each day in England and this is mostly cigarette butts, drinks cans, and bottles. You only have to look at the roadsides when you are travelling to see the extent of the problem. However, things may be about to change. The new AI-powered software is trained to spot pieces of rubbish which are thrown from cars, no matter how small.
The software analyses the footage and registers the driver’s number plate. Then councils can use the data to contact the DVLA for help issuing a fine.
Back in 2021, Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole Council partnered with environmental charity Hubbub and McDonald’s to launch a summer anti-litter campaign. As part of the ‘Leave Only Footprints’ campaign, drones and AI were used to tackle litter. AI analysis of drone footage could tell the council which types of litter were being dropped and where. This enabled the council to better strategise on where to put new bins, which areas to prioritise for clean up, and how best to approach changing people’s behaviours.
The use of drones to tackle litter was pioneered by tech startup Ellipsis Earth. It was successfully piloted in Sorrento, Italy, in summer 2020 and the results were impressive. It reduced litter by 45% and cigarette butt litter by 69%.
Smart bins have hit the headlines in recent years, particularly when it comes to improving recycling rates. Take bins like the Bin-e, for example. This smart bin uses AI to sort and compress different waste streams, making recycling easier. When you put something in the bin, AI identifies the type of waste, then transports it to the right compartment for recycling. And forget overflowing bins. This bin compresses plastic and paper to optimise capacity and has sensors which alert refuse teams when it needs emptying.
We think the answer is maybe, maybe not. AI can’t do it alone and it won’t replace human refuse collectors. It may make their collections more efficient however, as AI identifies rubbish hotspots and tells them which bins need emptying.
Like with the use of AI in other areas of work and life, there are issues to iron out. Like what happens to sensitive data like our car number plates when it’s in the AI system? Will there be issues around privacy and security? Will this solution be, as many may feel, another encroachment on our private lives?
Then there’s the issue that no matter how sophisticated technology is, some change has to come from us. We need to be educated, persuaded, and motivated to change our behaviour when it comes to litter. That’s the problem that’s yet to be solved if we are ever going to be able to live on a cleaner and greener planet.
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