Jason Gates spends most of his time thinking about garbage, and how we can produce less.
Since 2013 its San Francisco-based startup, Compology, has used cameras and artificial intelligence to monitor what is thrown at landfills and garbage containers for businesses such as McDonald’s restaurants and Nordstrom supermarkets. The point is to make sure the dumpsters are actually full before they are emptied and stop recycling cardboard from contaminating other debris and therefore, again, do not become waste.
“We’ve found that most businesses and individuals have good intentions regarding recycling, but most of the time they just don’t know what to do with recycling,” Gates, CEO of Compology, told Rachel Crane of CNN Business.
Why The Cameras?
To help them do better, Compology incorporates cameras and sensors into industrial waste containers. Cameras take pictures several times a day and when the container is raised for disposal. The accelerometer helps launch the camera on the day of the trash.
AI software analyzes images to determine how full the container is and can also inform the customer that something is missing, such as a garbage bag filled with recycled cardboard boxes. Gates said the company’s cameras could cut down on the amount of non-recyclable material thrown into garbage cans by 80%.
With McDonald’s garbage dumps in Las Vegas, for example, Compology cameras and sensors showed that the company used to do a good job of recycling cardboard. But sometimes garbage bags were thrown there, Gates said.
“We said that when we saw garbage bags going inside the cardboard containers, we sent a notice to the people at the site with a text message, informing them that they should remove us before the truck arrived the next morning telling them that dumping the recycled container is a waste, not to do in the future,” he said.
Brent Bohn, who owns and operates a large number of McDonald’s restaurants in Las Vegas and Phoenix, uses Compology at restaurants in Las Vegas to help ensure restaurant staff reuse appropriately.
“The cameras have really streamlined that for us and provided accountability for us, but also for our suppliers and the haulers that we work with,” he said.
Measuring Waste Disposal
Compology has trained its program to filter waste by tens of millions of images, says Gates, and uses images taken inside the current mounds to better determine the fullness and content of the interior. To date, it has processed more than 80 million images from its 162,000 cameras.
“If we get more pictures of garbage, we will be more accurate,” he said.
Part of the reason why Gates feels that the work of Compology is so important is because the United States, which has been sending large quantities of waste and its waste to China, is no longer doing so. China began blocking the importation of recycled materials in 2017, citing environmental concerns from mixed pollution, and extended its ban in 2018.
Since then, the US has been struggling to figure out what to do with its renewal, with four other cities suspending recycling programs. Cleaning the stateide of building materials could make it easier for the country to reuse itself (and, in fact, it is one of the goals of the US Environmental Protection Agency to increase reuse by 50% by 2030; currently around 32%).
The Compology service costs businesses between $ 10 and $ 20 per month per dumpster. It usually saves them thousands of dollars a year from dumping garbage, says Gates, as it can also use AI to predict what each resource plan should be, so it will only be downloaded when it is likely to be full.
Over time, Gates hopes that Compology can help measure how garbage is measured and reported — something that is currently inconsistent in the US.
“You have been able to measure how much you use electricity, water, gas for decades,” Gates said. “What we do is be able to measure how much waste you dispose of.”