How Green

Garbage Police? Webcam in Trashcan Checks Recycling Performance

June 8, 2011: Newcastle University students Julia Miebach, left, and Anja Thieme, right, with the Bincam and a laptop showing its Facebook page. Five households have signed up for a program announced Wednesday that puts photographs of every item placed in a garbage can on Facebook, to raise consciousness about recycling efforts.

June 8, 2011: Newcastle University students Julia Miebach, left, and Anja Thieme, right, with the Bincam and a laptop showing its Facebook page. Five households have signed up for a program announced Wednesday that puts photographs of every item placed in a garbage can on Facebook, to raise consciousness about recycling efforts.  (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

Now on Facebook: Your garbage.

Five households have signed up for a Newcastle University program announced Wednesday that puts photographs of every item placed in a garbage can on Facebook in a bid to raise consciousness about recycling efforts.

It uses a sensor and a camera phone to record the image each time the garbage can lid is shut. The person who does that is not photographed.

Households that participate will be rated on how efficiently they recycle.

"Normally when you throw something away and the lid goes down you forget about it -- out of sight out of mind -- and that's the end of it," said Anja Thieme, one of the postgraduate students in charge of the project. "But the reality could not be further from the truth. Waste has a massive environmental impact."

She said the program is not designed to humiliate people who recycle poorly but to make people reflect on how they dispose of waste.

Early results are encouraging, researchers said, as the amount of garbage thrown away and not recycled has diminished in the weeks since the program began.

But the privacy advocacy group Big Brother Watch is raising concerns about the pilot project.

"This sounds like an elaborate joke -- except it isn't," said director Daniel Hamilton. "Encouraging recycling is fine but publicly humiliating those who choose not to is outrageous."

He said he would not be surprised if some local councils in England start similar programs.

The project is aimed at young people whose attitudes about sustainability are still being formed.