An Internet of Things that act like red-light cameras

Charlie Stross is preparing for five more years of Tory rule in the UK by thinking up business-models that monopolize mandatory activities and extract rent from them.

He's hit on recycling -- it's something the planet needs, it's mandatory under EU rules, and it's kind of complicated to sort it all right. Add to that a bit of Internet of Things sensing, and you've got a recycling bin that can let the city know when it needs emptying -- but also automatically fine you for using it wrong, generating important revenue for the city that pays Charlie to install 'em. But don't worry -- if you're rich, you just buy an expensive auto-sorting bin from Charlie's Evil Recycling Conglom. He'll get you coming and going.

The evil business plan of evil (and misery) posits the existence of smart municipality-provided household recycling bins. There's an inductance device around it (probably a coil) to sense ferrous metals, a DNA sniffer to identify plant or animal biomass and SmartWater tagged items, and an RFID reader to scan any packaging. The bin has a PV powered microcontroller that can talk to a base station in the nearest wifi-enabled street lamp, and thence to the city government's waste department. The householder sorts their waste into the various recycling bins, and when the bins are full they're added to a pickup list for the waste truck on the nearest routing—so that rather than being collected at a set interval, they're only collected when they're full.

But that's not all.

Householders are lazy or otherwise noncompliant and sometimes dump stuff in the wrong bin, just as drivers sometimes disobey the speed limit.

The overt value proposition for the municipality (who we are selling these bins and their support infrastructure to) is that the bins can sense the presence of the wrong kind of waste. This increases management costs by requiring hand-sorting, so the individual homeowner can be surcharged (or fined). More reasonably, households can be charged a high annual waste recycling and sorting fee, and given a discount for pre-sorting everything properly, before collection—which they forefeit if they screw up too often.

The covert value proposition ... local town governments are under increasing pressure to cut their operating budgets. But by implementing increasingly elaborate waste-sorting requirements and imposing direct fines on households for non-compliance, they can turn the smart recycling bins into a new revenue enhancement channel, much like the speed cameras in Waldo. Churn the recycling criteria just a little bit and rely on tired and over-engaged citizens to accidentally toss a piece of plastic in the metal bin, or some food waste in the packaging bin: it'll make a fine contribution to your city's revenue!

The Evil Business Plan of Evil (and misery for all) [Charlie Stross/Antipope]

(Image: Garbage Only
Peter Kaminski, CC-BY
)