Beware the green police. They don’t carry guns and there’s no police academy to train them, but if you don’t recycle your trash properly, they can walk up your driveway and give you a $100 ticket.
They know what’s in your trash, they know what you eat, they know how often you bring your recycles to the curb — and they may be coming to your town soon. That is, if they’re not already there.
In a growing number of cities across the U.S., local governments are placing computer chips in recycling bins to collect data on refuse disposal, and then fining residents who don’t participate in recycling efforts and forcing others into educational programs meant to instill respect for the environment.
From Charlotte, N.C., to Cleveland, Ohio, from Boise, Idaho, to Flint, Mich., the green police are spreading out. And that alarms some privacy advocates who are asking: Should local governments have the right to monitor how you divide your paper cups from your plastic forks? Is that really the role of government?
In Dayton, Ohio, chips placed in recycle bins transmit information to garbage trucks to keep track of whether residents are recycling — a program that incensed Arizona Sen. John McCain, who pointed out that the city was awarded half a million dollars in stimulus money for it.
Harry Lewis, a computer science professor at Harvard University and a noted privacy expert, cried foul about the “spy chips,” which are already in use in several cities and are often funded by government stimulus programs. He noted that cattle farmers use the same chips to tell if Betsy the Cow has generated her milk quota for the day.
“It’s treating people like cattle!” Lewis cried. Are people “supposed to produce recyclable waste, rather than certain quantities of milk”? What, he asked, happens if you don’t generate enough?
But there’s a clear upside to the technology, said Michael Kanellos, editor in chief of GreenTech Media.
“By tagging bins, haulers can weigh garbage, and weighing brings accountability. Consumers that diligently recycle will likely become eligible for rebates in some jurisdictions,” he wrote recently. “Conversely, those who throw away excessive amounts of trash may face steeper tariffs in the future … recycling, meanwhile, will go from being something that gives the consumer peace of mind to a way to reduce household bills.”
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