Big Brother In Your Trash. Crazy, Right? Wrong.

By Shelli Dawdy

Fortunately, the story is starting to get out. “Big Brother” wants to see what’s in your trash. And no, this is not a conspiracy theory. WHO is “Big Brother”? The precise composition of the snoop depends upon where you live, but in most cases, there is a single source from which this river of nonsense flows.

While there is a population of savvier activists who have been talking for a while about how trash collection and recycling are connected with a much broader agenda, the rest of us are just catching up. The whole subject was brought to my attention by a LaVista activist who had done some digging about a new recycling program introduced there this spring.

Listeners of Glenn Beck’s radio show first heard about “garbage police” on July 1, when a Charleston, South Carolina man reported he had received notification that he had violated a city ordinance; improper use of “city maintained baskets”. His improper use? Throwing away a UPS envelope in a city trash can instead of disposing of it in his business’ trash can. As a local news story reported, the “perpetrator” even received a photograph of the envelope he had thrown away. Shame on him! Those City trash cans are meant for pedestrians only. (I must interject a question: did this dangerous law breaker FLY over the trash can to deposit the envelope?)

Of course the whole story shows the inevitable stupidity of government bureaucracy (note “rules are rules” quote from one of the enforcers in the local news report), the lengths to which government will go to “go green”, but perhaps most importantly, it reveals that government is now sifting through people’s trash.

I took a look at the City of Charleston’s city codes pertaining to trash, and the whole thing is rather murky. Bureaucrats and “rules are rules” enforcer types have much room for discretion.

I went looking at the City of Charleston’s codes for two reasons; I want to confirm if my suspicions about run-away government are true all over and I wanted to know if Charleston was going the way of Cleveland, OH. On August 20, the Cleveland Plains Dealer reported that the City Council had voted to spend $2.5 million on new trash and recycling carts with RFID chips embedded (See Note 1, below). If a resident is not using the recycling cart frequently enough, trash collectors will go through the trash cart. If more than 10% recyclable materials are found, a $100 fine will be imposed.

I am sure it warms the hearts of citizens everywhere to know that government sanitation workers will be empowered to search through their trash and impose fines.

I’m certain that most people reading this are thinking, “well, that’s Cleveland…or Charleston…not LaVista or Lincoln, Nebraska”. Sorry, think again.

If you read the information about Cleveland’s program in the Plains Dealer story, you will find reference to a pilot program the City undertook in consideration of its trash collection policies. The City is now turning the pilot program mandatory and eventually intends to have all 150,000 residents on board. While I cannot absolutely tie the referenced pilot program to an entity known as Recycle Bank, it seems more than a coincidence that the Recycle Bank corporate site featured a Cleveland TV report in 2009 about a newly implemented program in northern Ohio offered by Recycle Bank.

Click to watch WEWS Cleveland Ch. 5 News Report on Recycle Bank Program

Recycle Bank offeres rewards to participants for recycling. As the WEWS report shows, there are tracking chips embedded on the carts and participants’ usage is recorded by address.

As Recycle Bank’s “agreements” page reports, the usage data collected can be turned over to essentially anyone.

From the Recycle Bank Corporate website:

“How Information is Used

RecycleBank collects individual household and aggregated recycling data in order to administer certain of our programs.  While RecycleBank exercises discretion regarding the use and distribution of the recycling data that we collect, we reserve the right to provide such data (in both individual and aggregate formats) to municipalities and haulers upon request.

The determination whether to provide such information to a requesting party is made on a case by case basis taking into consideration the way in which the data is to be used.  If we believe the use of the data provided will be beneficial to the public and promote the green actions that we encourage, such request is likely to be granted.

RecycleBank may use household program data and PII to send relevant offers and information that may be of interest to specific RecycleBank participants, to alert you when you earn Points, and, generally, to administer the Site and the RecycleBank Rewards Program.”

Leaving aside the implications of the data collection and distribution for the moment, encouraging recycling sounds like a really fine idea. I don’t like trash blowing around my city anymore than the next guy, and I am a “use it up, wear it out” kind of gal.

But this program seems too good to be true, and those with common sense know what that usually means. I have a nagging question. Is a service that collects, sorts, and reprocesses people’s trash and then additionally rewards points a profitable endeavor? One may get the impression it is, considering that Recycle Bank’s website sure looks professional, perhaps even profitable.

But a closer look reveals something else is going on here. Recycle Bank is a CERES company and a UNEP partner.  CERES is a “network of investors, environmental organizations, and other public interest groups”. UNEP and CERES have much in common, but at the top of the list is something called “sustainable development“.

Sustainable development…that sounds very positive, of course. A couple of GiN members are currently researching sustainable development in depth and we hope to provide a series of articles as a result.

In the meantime, I will only mention sustainable development’s origins; it is a United Nation’s concept, born out of a very sweeping initiative called Agenda 21. When considering the meaning of “sustainable”, it is important to understand the priority and where we humans fit in. A primary object of sustainable development is to sustain the planet. If you need to drastically change your lifestyle, then, too bad.

Again, we intend to report on further on sustainable development and Agenda 21 soon.

For now it is important to know the reason why we have become so interested. First, the Recycle Bank program, as already noted is in LaVista. It is also in Lincoln. Imagine my chagrin in gathering information for this article to discover “hidden in plain site” a KLKN Ch. 8 news story from 2008 about the new Recycle Bank program offered through one of the city’s private trash collection companies.

Also on Recycle Bank’s site, Lincoln Recycle Bank participants were recently highlighted as having increased their recycling by 200%. Accompanying this wild success, the Omaha-based division of Recycle Bank (which serves Lincoln) stated it’s intentions to expand. People are clamoring for Recycle Bank to come to their Nebraska town!

Let’s put it all together. Remember Cleveland, Ohio? They tried a pilot program for recycling, coincidentally much like Recycle Bank’s. The Cleveland news did a report about a Recycle Bank program in select northern Ohio communities. Trash and recycling bins were scanned and tracked. Benefit to the city in lower land fill usage and participation stats were collected and calculated. A recycling program using the same technology has now been made mandatory and garbage collectors are empowered to search people’s trash and impose fines.

Recycle Bank, UNEP, and Agenda 21 all state their object is, in one way or another to get people to change the way they live. These folks somehow believe they have the right to do so. That is at the heart of sustainable development.  Some major components of sustainable development are geared to encourage communities to move away from cars and towards walking, biking, and public transportation and to targets ZERO waste production.

Remember Charleston and the wayward UPS envelope guy? I cannot find any direct links of Charleston to the UNEP, Recycle Bank, or Agenda 21. But when one does a tour of City and county websites, the sustainable development push is in full swing.

The Recycle Bank program in Lincoln is obviously voluntary; trash collection in the city is all private. We can all be thankful that switching our entire system over to city collection would most likely be resisted.

But Recycle Bank data could prove too great a temptation for Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler . The “lower carbon footprint”, rates of participation, and lowered land fill usage are exactly up his alley. Near the beginning of his term, Beutler announced he wants a “cleaner, greener Lincoln”. And he is on board with the sustainable development push.

While we were are not yet fully up to speed on which elements of Agenda 21 and sustainable development are in motion in Lincoln, we do know that there promises to be a more vigorous implementation going forward. We recently learned from another Lincolnite that there is a “Sustainability Workshop” scheduled here in Lincoln for September 29.

To be continued…


1) RFID Wikipedia definition

Additional reading suggestion:

Recycle or Else? Big Brother To Pick Through Trash


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