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We want you Bin Brother -

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We want you Bin Brother

The World Today - Monday, 14 April , 2008 12:26:00

Reporter: Karen Barlow

LISA MILLAR: You might think your waste is tossed away never to be seen again, but a new tracking
device on rubbish bins could mean your garbage comes back to bite.

Two Sydney councils are now weighing thousands of residential bins through the use of tiny radio
frequency identification tags hidden on the rim. The idea is to improve recycling rates by
identifying the amount and location of excess waste.

The councils are touting the measure as part of their green credentials, but one prominent
environmentalist says it is purely a commercial activity which doesn't go far enough.

Karen Barlow reports.

KAREN BARLOW: There is revolution going on in waste management, which Big Brother would be proud

Tucked away under the rim of wheelie bins found in two Sydney councils, are small radio frequency
tracking devices collecting information on a household's waste habits.

The Mayor of Randwick, Bruce Notley-Smith, says they're the way of the future.

BRUCE NOTLEY-SMITH: We will be able to find out the weights of the various bins and collect the
data, the entire amount, as opposed to the quantities that's recyclable.

KAREN BARLOW: So this is working in concert with the actual garbage truck?

BRUCE NOTLEY-SMITH: That's right. The garbage truck reads the data on the bin and weighs the bin
and that is collated on a computer.

KAREN BARLOW: How do you see that as coming back to the individual and affecting what they do?

BRUCE NOTLEY-SMITH: We've aimed to increase or target problem areas in the city where there's a
lower level of recycling. The fact is that 50 per cent of the city of Randwick is multi-unit
dwellings and we have faced a number of challenges there with getting compliance with recycling.

KAREN BARLOW: So, you already have a fairly good idea of who to target, you're just sort of proving
it through these devices?

BRUCE NOTLEY-SMITH: Pretty much so.

KAREN BARLOW: Ryde is the other council using the tracking devices. It has done so since 2006 and
says it has helped to raise local recycling rates to about 48 per cent.

But champions of recycling are underwhelmed. The founder of Clean Up Australia is Ian Kiernan.

IAN KIERNAN: I don't believe they deserve huge praise for an environmental initiative because I
don't think it is that. I think it's simply a somewhat effective commercial move. It's like when
you have metered electricity, you can look at your metre and see how you can count it back.

But this information is not going back to the consumer, to the rubbish producer, the householder,
it is simply for that particular waste company to keep a track of its bins.

KAREN BARLOW: The data collected by the tracking devices is supposed to stay between the council
and the contractor, WSN Environmental Solutions, due to privacy concerns.

Ian Kiernan says the information should be shared with the garbage thrower.

IAN KIERNAN: They could say, "We've got to cut down on what we're paying to get rid of your
rubbish. Where obviously need to remove some of the recycling that's going into the waste stream,
or we've got to look at our purchasing so we're buying less packaging." And so many things that you
can do in that little household audit, if, once you have the data.

KAREN BARLOW: But Randwick's Mayor Bruce Notley-Smith says he is not in it to make money for the

BRUCE NOTLEY-SMITH: I don't know, certainly make a great deal of money out of recyclables. That's
for the market to decide, it's our obligation to actually collect as much as for our recyclable
material as we possibly can and reduce as much as we can the amount of waste going into landfill.

KAREN BARLOW: Well this contractor must be making some sort of money out of the situation. I mean,
the information is not being shared with the individual; it's between council and the contractor.

BRUCE NOTLEY-SMITH: The commercial imperative is not the issue here, it's a, we're trying to
minimise the amount of waste which is going into landfill. The contractor, what they actually do
with the recyclable material, that's for the market to decide.

KAREN BARLOW: Recycling can be big business. It is no surprise that one of Australia's richest men
is the 'Cardboard King', Richard Pratt.

Ian Kiernan says more needs to be done on the individual, government and business level to reduce

IAN KIERNAN: A large, or some proportion of what is recyclable is actually going to landfill
because it's convenient and it can be cheaper than recycling. Now, I haven't tracked down the
validity of those claims, but we've just got to realise that we have got to improve our waste

And the good operators are doing it, they're looking to how they do it everyday. But just putting
tags on bins is not a huge stride forward in the name of the environment.

LISA MILLAR: That's the founder and chairman of Clean Up Australia, Ian Kiernan, ending that report
from Karen Barlow.