BinCam, a research project from Newcastle University, gives a new meaning to the term “e-waste.” Instead of electronics ending up in the trash, this receptacle uses electronics and a bit of social pressure to make owners more aware of their waste — and hopefully divert more of it into recycling and composting instead of the landfill.
It’s pretty simple. A smartphone under the lid snaps a photo every time someone drops in a “waste” item. The photo is automatically uploaded to Facebook, where the user’s friends and family can shame them for tossing a perfectly recyclable bottle, or for failing to compost their table scraps. At the same time, the BinCam Facebook app sends the picture out to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service, where a real human being will score the photo based on whether each item is truly deserving of the lowly trash can. These scores also get pushed back to Facebook so users can compete to have the greenest household.
In essence, BinCam “gamifies” your trash — offering points and leaderboards in the hopes that it will be better motivation than a moralizing finger-wag about each person’s responsibility to care for the environment. Some commentators have argued that it’s a mediocre use of “smart” technology, which works best when it treats us as adults and presents the opportunity to make informed, ethically-motivated choices about our own behavior.
But the creators of BinCam say that the gaming tie-in to social media allows feedback from friends and family (both encouragement and peer pressure guilt-trips) to “normalize” proper waste disposal. And their published research on BinCam shows “an increase in both users’ awareness of, and reflection about, their waste management and their motivation to improve their waste-related skills.”
You could easily see the Mechanical Turk service being replaced in the future with smart packing technology or networked cameras that can identify the object and allow for identification and better sorting procedures.
To learn more about BinCam, check out the video below.