thumbnail We’ve bin watching you!

Computer scientists at Newcastle University have come up with a novel way of encouraging students to recycle – using a camera phone and Facebook.

Signing up five households to take part in the study, the aim is to monitor what they throw away and introduce an element of competition to try to improve recycling rates and minimise waste.

Placing a small sensor attached to a camera phone in a kitchen bin, “BinCam” takes a photograph every time the lid slams shut.

The image is then fed directly to the BinCam Facebook page where not only house members but also other BinCam users in the study can see what they’ve thrown away. Graphs chart how well each household is doing in the recycling league and there is the opportunity to leave comments or share recycling tips.

“Normally when you throw something away and the lid goes down you forget about it – out of sight out of mind – and that’s the end of it," explains Anja Thieme, who is leading the project together with fellow research students Jack Weeden and Julia Miebach. “But the reality could not be further from the truth – waste has a massive environmental impact. By taking a photograph and uploading it to Facebook, the idea is that we create a platform for self-reflection - a permanent reminder."

Initial results from the project suggest it is working. Early images on Facebook show everything from beer cans to pizza boxes and large quantities of wasted food. After just two weeks, however, the bin is being emptied fewer times due to less being thrown away and more being recycled.

The project is a collaboration between the School of Computing Science and Culture Lab and the next step is to roll out BinCam to more student houses at the start of the new academic year in September.

The project is just one example of the research and initiatives underway to tackle the great societal challenge of sustainability and the University’s waste manager Daniel O’Connor is keen to introduce the scheme for staff.

"Anything that makes recycling easier is good - but when it is fun and innovative like BinCam it really encourages participation," he said. "The use of Facebook and the community peer pressure is fascinating and I am looking forward to introducing the application to other parts of the campus."

 Full press release


published on: 14th June 2011