That’s why McDonald’s restaurants put rooms in the dumpster

Since 2013, his San Francisco-based startup, Compology, has used cameras and artificial intelligence to monitor what is thrown in garbage cans and garbage containers at companies such as McDonald’s restaurants and Nordstrom stores. The idea is to make sure that the rubbish bins are actually full before they are emptied and to stop recyclable materials, such as cardboard, from being contaminated by other rubbish so that they do not become waste.

“We’ve found that most businesses and people have the right intentions about recycling, but often they just don’t know what the right way to recycle is,” Gates, CEO of Compology, told CNN Business’s Rachel Crane.

To help them do this right, Compology puts garbage surveillance cameras and sensors in industrial waste containers. The cameras take pictures several times each day and when the container is lifted to be thrown away. An accelerometer helps trigger the camera on garbage day.

AI software scans images to find out how full the container is and can also notify a customer when something doesn’t have to be, such as a trash can thrown in a dumpster full of cardboard boxes for recycling. . Gates said the company’s rooms can reduce the amount of non-recyclable materials dumped in waste containers with up to 80%.

For example, with McDonald’s dumpsters in Las Vegas, Compology cameras and sensors have shown that, in general, the company does a good job of recycling cardboard packaging. But garbage bags were occasionally dumped there, Gates said.

“Once I saw the garbage bags entering the cardboard containers, I sent a notification to the people on the spot via SMS, informing them that they should take it out before the truck arrives the next morning and telling them that putting garbage in the recycling bin is a form of contamination, which you should not do in the future, “he said.

Brent Bohn, who owns and operates dozens of McDonald’s restaurants in Las Vegas and Phoenix, uses Compology at Las Vegas restaurants to help make sure the restaurant workers recycle properly.

“The cameras have really simplified this for us and given responsibility for us, but also for our suppliers and the carriers we work with,” he said.

Compology has trained its system to sort the trash with tens of millions of images, Gates said, and uses photos taken from trash cans that are now used to better determine the fullness and what’s inside. To date, it has processed more than 80 million images from the 162,000 cameras it has installed.

Compology's artificial intelligence system detects a contaminant in an image from one of its cameras.

“The more images we have of the interior of the dumpsters, the more accurate we can be,” he said.

Part of the reason Gates sees Compology as vital is that the United States, which used to send much of its scrap and waste to China, no longer does so. China began banning imports of recycled materials in 2017, citing environmental concerns from blends contaminate, and extended its ban in 2018.
Since then, the United States has struggled to figure out what to do with recyclable materials, with some cities simply stopping recycling programs. Cleaning materials at the state level could facilitate the country’s recycling its own (and, in fact, is one of the goals of the US Environmental Protection Agency to increase the internal recycling rate to 50% by 2030; it is currently around 32%).

The Compology service costs businesses between $ 10 and $ 20 a month on the dumpster. It generally saves them thousands of dollars per dumpster a year on waste transportation costs, Gates said, because it can also use AI to predict what the service schedule should be for each dumpster, so it will only be picked up then. when it is likely to be full.

Over time, Gates hopes that Compology can help standardize the way waste is measured and reported – something that is currently not consistent in the United States.

“You could measure how much electricity, water, gas you used for decades,” Gates said. “What we do is be able to measure the amount of waste you produce.”