Getting to know what's in the green cart will help reduce costs and waste
By Jan d'Ailly
Imagine being able to snap a photo of the contents of a green cart as it’s being emptied into a waste truck, automatically identify and catalogue the materials, and end up with a clear picture of what we’re throwing away – and possibly what could be saved?
This summer, that innovative concept will be put to the test in a pilot project that could save City staff time and at the same time equip them to help residents better understand food waste.
The City of Guelph and County of Wellington are pursuing a Smart City initiative funded by Infrastructure Canada, Our Food Future - which seeks to reinstate circular, sustainable principles into Canada’s food system.
This is in keeping with Ontario’s food and organic waste framework, which “takes a systems approach to food and organic waste generation, management and recovery, recognizing that all stages of supply and production have a role to play in moving towards a circular economy”.
In developing the Framework, the province considered a number of key guiding principles, including:
- Encouraging a change in behaviour to help prevent and reduce food waste in Ontario.
- Enhancing existing partnerships with stakeholders and building new relationships.
- Building on progress made in Ontario and learning from other leading jurisdictions.
- Collaborating across all levels of government to avoid duplication.
- Supporting an outcome-based approach.
- Using evidence to guide decision-making.
- Using regulatory and non-regulatory tools.
- Creating conditions that support sustainable end-markets.
- Increasing the use of innovative technologies.
- Enabling efficient and effective surplus food redistribution and food waste recovery systems.
- Recognizing the administrative impacts and costs to collect and recover organic resources.
- Increasing accountability.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme Food Waste Index Report 2021, worldwide the residential sector generates about 61% of all food and organic waste, and this waste should be reduced.
Each year Guelph processes about 10,000 tons of organic waste plus another 20,000 tons processed under a contract with an outside region. An earlier waste audit showed that about 40 per cent of that material consists of discarded fruits and vegetables and other avoidable food waste. Manual inspection of green cart waste gives a complete picture of compostable items and contaminants, but that system is expensive and time-consuming and offers only a snapshot of composting practices.
The first step to address waste reduction and move to a more circular food economy is to fully understand what is going into the green organics cart in a much more cost effective manner. Last year the City of Guelph put out a challenge:
“How might the City of Guelph consistently collect detailed household-level data on avoidable food loss/waste or incorrect sorting in the organics collection stream (green cart), that can be used to help households understand their own food waste and inform city-wide food waste reduction projects?”
Eagle Vision Systems Inc. (EVS), whose CartSeeker technology already uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) Vision Recognition technology to automate the collection of waste, is partnering with the University of Guelph (U of G) and setting out to apply the latest in AI vision recognition technology to identify the food waste discarded in the green cart.
Under the umbrella of EVS's project award from City of Guelph's Civic Accelerator Program, the U of G's research team will receive $30,000 for the project, including $20,000 under an Alliance grant from the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Those funds will enable researchers to outfit a waste collection vehicle with sophisticated AI and machine vision technology to provide detailed information about what city residents throw into their green carts.
“Our proposal is to use machine vision and the latest artificial intelligence technology to detect items being dumped from green carts into the collection vehicle,” said Dr. Andrew Gadsden, a professor in the School of Engineering and head of its Intelligent Control and Estimation Laboratory.
The project team hopes to enable the collection vehicle to collect and inspect at the same time, which will dramatically reduce the cost of inspection and may eliminate the need for manual inspections altogether.
“It’s potentially significant and we want to see what’s possible,” said Cameron Walsh, Division Manager, Solid Waste Resources, with the City. “Through automation and AI, we hope to increase the data available to make better decisions and test interventions.”
The information gathered will help inform the city’s policy framework and education programs to enable the city to embrace the circular food economy and continue down the path to rebuild Canada’s circular food economy.