A Robotic Arm Collects Curbside Trash

The city of Grand Rapids' "smart cart" system uses RFID tags to track receptacles and a robot to collect them

The City of Grand Rapids, Michigan is getting smarter at how it collects waste, with robotic trucks and waste bins with computer chips.

Recently, the city unveiled a new municipal waste collection program that allows residents to pay based on the amount of trash residents place at the curb, rather than paying a monthly fee, using a new “smart cart” garbage collection system. The “pay as you throw” system was first put in place by the city in 1973, but with a bag-and-tag system in which customers put plastic trash bags on the curb and prepaid tags that were placed on the bags. Now the city is turning to sturdier trash collection bins and a trucks with a robotic arm to make the process efficient, safe for workers, and clean (no more ripped bags blowing trash everywhere!).

With the new system, customers will choose a free smart cart of various sizes and place it along the curb when it gets full. One of the new garbage trucks then comes by (as long as the bin is close enough to the curb) and that’s when technology takes over:

“The City’s locally-made smart carts use embedded RFID computer chip technology to track activity of the City carts,” said Public Services Director James Hurt. “Using this technology, the driver can empty the cart without leaving the truck. The onboard computer can verify that the cart belongs to the proper address and logs whenever the smart cart is emptied and debits the customer’s account.”

Customers are charged $2 per collection of the smallest cart, $4 for the medium size, and $6 for the largest size.

“The City of Grand Rapids’ new pay as you throw program is going to be a leading municipal service,” said City Manager Greg Sundstrom. “Although the City’s bag and tag program had operated well, it has become difficult to sustain financially. The new refuse collection program will use the same equipment, technology, and practices as the private sector. It will allow us to increase productivity and reduce costs to our residents.”

Costs are going up slightly, but, according to MLive.com, that’s because all costs are being passed onto customers instead of taxpayers, with the city decreasing its trash tax. The city expects the new program to cut costs by 40 percent and save about $300,000, with a lot of the savings coming from reduced worker’s compensation claims.

The program also is designed to discourage throwing out trash and encourage more recycling. The city already offers free single-stream recycling program for any resident living along a public street.