High-tech garbage cameras may be Miami’s answer to trash troubles

City testing technology that makes waste removal smarter and more efficient

The city of Miami is piloting a high-tech system from the company Compology that could makes waste removal smarter and cheaper.

MIAMI – Managing waste in Miami is going high-tech.

With South Florida drowning in waste — with landfills quickly filling up and recycling services stopped in some cities — the pressure is on to get a handle on how we manage our garbage.

And the city of Miami is test-driving an innovation involving cameras in dumpsters that has helped several Fortune 500 companies save millions while reducing their carbon footprint.

“I think this is going to be great for Miami, and I think it serves as a model for how the rest of the country can follow suit,” said Jason Gates, CEO of Compology.

His company based in San Francisco meters garbage to help businesses better handle their waste, saving them money and also saving the planet.

Here’s how it works: Rugged smart cameras are installed inside dumpsters and take pictures several times a day. Using artificial intelligence, they measure how much waste and what kind of waste is in there.

“What we do is use actual data from the building to determine what service schedule the building needs,” Gates said. “So doing that typically reduces the number of collections from 30-40%, which also translates to lower cost and vehicle miles traveled and carbon emissions.

“Waste has a tremendous impact on carbon emissions,” he added. “So the more we can reduce vehicle miles being traveled and reduce the waste that’s going to landfills, the more we’re reducing our carbon footprint.”

In other words, instead of regular garbage pickups on a set schedule, with this new technology, dumpsters are only serviced when they’re full.

“The only thing worse than overflowing cans is a bunch of trucks picking up empty cans. So this is going to solve that problem,” City Commissioner Ken Russell said.

Russell greenlit the pilot program, installing the cameras in 40 dumpsters at city-owned properties. The goal is to help reduce not just costs but gas emissions by 60% citywide, keeping Miami on track to be carbon neutral by 2050.

“One of the ways we can do it is by changing our behavior,” Russell said. “How many big vehicles do we have on the road and how often? So if we can make our garbage fleet, our city fleet, more efficient, that changes a big carbon footprint in the city of Miami.”

It’s also a recycling game-changer. By identifying the waste in the dumpster before it’s serviced, corrections can be made if the wrong materials wind up in the wrong bin.

The technology would then send a text message to the building’s maintenance manager.

“There’s a picture from inside the container showing the material that’s not supposed to be there and a quick message that explains that the material is there and please remove it before the truck gets there the next morning,” Gates said.

Said Russell: “We’ll be able to send messages to building managers that there’s a lot of recycling in your regular garbage. Can you work on that?”

The technology works. For the past 10 years, Compology has been helping corporate giants like Apple, Google, Oracle and even McDonald’s become greener — and saving them up to 40% on waste hauling costs.

“They save between $6,000 and $7,000 per restaurant per year by just correcting their service schedules,” Gates said of McDonald’s.

If Miami finds success in the test run and decides to roll it out citywide, it would be the first city in the nation to implement a program like this.

“The old way of thinking isn’t working,” Russell said. “It’s wasting gas, it’s wasting taxpayer money. If the technology exists to advance into a smarter way of handling garbage, we should do it.”

The pilot program will run for 60 days and is costing the city nothing. If the city moves forward, the service will then run about $30 a month per dumpster.

But do the math. Right now, Miami spends $41 million dollars a year on waste management. This could potentially save the city anywhere from 30-40% and, more importantly, help the city get to net-zero carbon emissions and get a better handle on recycling.

About the Author:

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.