Trash dumpers will be watched

Kelowna-area homeowners who dump garbage into recycling and yard waste carts may soon be spotted by a sophisticated computer-and-camera monitoring system.

Kelowna-area homeowners who dump garbage into recycling and yard waste carts may soon be spotted by a sophisticated computer-and-camera monitoring system.

Officials hope to begin a new continuous surveillance program next year, pending the endorsement of the five governments in the Central Okanagan.

Using radio frequency identification technology and on-board video monitors, drivers on collection routes will immediately note people using the waste disposal system improperly.

Residents contaminating the carts with regular household garbage — already estimated at five to 10 per cent — will be contacted by regional staff and told to clean up their act.

They’ll face warnings, fines and even the prospect of losing all their curbside pick-up services if they don’t start sorting the materials correctly.

Peter Rotheisler, of the Central Okanagan waste reduction office, says they’re not looking to target and punish people, they simply want to educate.

“We’re not trying to be invasive, like Big Brother. We’re trying to collect the data to help us do our job more efficiently,” Rotheisler said Wednesday.

“It’s more of a tool that will help us with our education campaigns.”

But at least one politician thinks the new system represents a costly and unwarranted invasion of privacy.

“I have a philosophical objection to this sort of thing,” said Lake Country Coun. Alice Rees, who cast the sole dissenting vote Tuesday against that town’s participation.

“With the photographs, and the creation of a database with personal information, and the computer monitoring — it’s all just too much,” Rees said. “I’m the first one to recycle, but this kind of surveillance, it’s innocuous, but it’s also insidious.”

Kelowna and West Kelowna are expected to decide soon on whether to participate in the system. The proposal before the municipalities is to spend a total of $80,000-$100,000 to equip collection trucks with on-board computers and purchase new software necessary to implement the monitoring system.

Key to the program’s operation is a small transponder already embedded under the lid of all garbage, yard waste and recyclable containers now in use throughout the Central Okanagan.

With the new equipment, each time a cart is tipped into the truck a record is made of its location and the homeowner to whom it’s assigned. Using an on-board camera already installed in the back of all collection trucks, the driver can see if any household garbage has been improperly tossed.

The new contaminant detection system is necessary, officials say, because previous attempts to encourage people to sort their waste correctly have not proven successful. It costs more than $300,000 a year to have workers manually sort out contaminants from the yard waste and recyclable carts.

If so, a notation will be made in the system, and the homeowner can later expect to get a phone call from regional staff advising them of improper sorting.

Subsequent violations may invite fines, and, in the case of repeat offenders, possible loss of all curbside collection services.