BinCam project encourages students to recycle

Computer scientists at Newcastle University have come up with a novel system to encourage students to recycle, using a camera phone and Facebook.

Through the use of a small sensor attached to a camera phone in a kitchen bin, ‘BinCam’ takes a photograph every time the bin 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 have 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.

Five student households are currently trialling the system in an attempt to improve recycling rates and minimise waste.

‘There is a “naming and shaming” element to the experiment, although it’s fun rather than humiliating,’ said Anja Thieme, who is leading the project together with fellow research students Jack Weeden and Julia Miebach, postgraduate students in human-computer interaction at Newcastle University.

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.

‘A few times we even saw people throwing something away and then going back into the bin to take it out again,’ said Thieme.

The project is a collaboration between the School of Computing Science and Culture Lab at Newcastle University and the universities of Lincoln and Duisburg-Essen.