VERIFY: Is Your Trash Can Spying On You?

What if your trash can -- the ones provided by your town, city or county -- was tracking you? That's what one of our viewers said she feared was happening in Richland County.

RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WLTX) - News 19 WLTX is verifying whether your trash can is spying on you.

Backstory:

We received an e-mail from a viewer, who is a resident of Richland County, saying she noticed what looked like a circuit board hidden in the nook of her trash can.

Process:

News 19 wanted to figure out what this electronic device in the trash and recycle bins is for. We called Richland County director of public information, Beverly Harris, to see what these devices are.

After speaking with the Solid Waste and Recycling manager, Harris sent out a press release. The release reads: "Richland County is keeping tabs on its 160,000 trash and recycle roll carts with a technology commonly used in pets, library materials and the bibs of road race participants."

According to the release, "the tracking system involves small radio-frequency identification (RFID) microchips imbedded into the roll carts. By using this RFID technology, Richland County Solid Waste & Recycling (SW&R) is able to identify stolen carts or carts that are blown away during severe weather."

To learn more about the RFID microchips, we interviewed Art Braswell, Richland County Solid Waste & Recycling manager.

"Occasionally, carts are stolen and need to be replaced. Chips are put into the cart, so we can identify the carts and tie the cart to a location," said Braswell.

Braswell said 30,000 garbage or recycling carts were damaged or in need of repair last year. Each cart costs about $50, which equals out to $1.5 million. Braswell said the chips are to make sure the carts do not get misplaced.

It's all part of the upcoming Route Management System, which will be put in place later this year. Trash haulers will have scanners on them, so when they collect the trash, Public Works will know.

If any homes are missed during trash pick-up, Braswell said they will be immediately notified, so the trash hauler can collect that bin. He said he hopes this will reduce the number of missed pick-ups in the county.

With this new system, they'll also be able to tell if the carts were at the end of the driveway when a hauler came by.

The Route Management System is expected to cost almost $1 million.

"The citizens pay a $249 fee each year, which is attached to their tax bill. That money goes into the enterprise fund, which will fund this project," said Braswell.

So, is Richland County tracking you and your habits?

"We are not tracking what people are buying or what they're throwing away. Our goal is to improve customer service and make sure the carts are collected when they're supposed to be," said Braswell.

We can say Richland County is not tracking its residents.

SOURCES:

WLTX Viewer Email from Richland County

Beverly Harris, Richland County Director of Public Information

Art Braswell, Richland County Solid Waste & Recycling Manager

© 2017 WLTX-TV


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