Binit slashes household waste with gamified AI trash tracking

Binit Technologies has found a novel way to use tech to reduce waste and encouraging recycling.
Binit slashes household waste with gamified AI trash tracking

Migrating to Europe taught me a lot about rules and recycling.  In Europe, we’re expected to separate our residential waste into paper, plastic, glass, and biowaste. Make an error (like pizza cartons into paper), and you’ll risk the ire of your neighbours knocking on your door and scolding you.

But pizza boxes aside, most people know how to reduce waste and recycle correctly, they just don’t do it. And now a startup has found a way to change people’s behaviour. 

Headquartered in Helsinki, Finland, Binit Technologies was founded in 2021 to minimise waste and to rethink the way we deal with waste today. It builds machine learning-enabled tracking tech to help households understand and reduce waste better. 

Its first hardware product (MVP 2024) is a plug-and-play camera vision device with machine learning capabilities to identify, classify and quantify individual waste items. A corresponding mobile app connects the device to the bin and to the Binit community for real-time tracking, goal setting and gamification features such as user contests.

Binit is mounting active pilot projects in Austin, NYC, San Francisco, LA, Helsinki, and Berlinwhere it collects and provides transparent data points.

And the results are impressive. For example, residents in the Austin trial managed to reduce household waste per person by a whopping 38 per cent in just three weeks. 

By gamifying waste with a Strava-style leaderboard and other merits that tap into people’s competitiveness—as well as their guilty conscience and fear of public shaming—the company was able to lead to behaviour change.

I met with Borut Grgic, founder and CEO of Binit to learn more.

How Binit is able to change behaviour 

Image: Kerry Ellison

Grgic notes that a lot of people were sceptical that waste tracking would lead to behaviour change. However, once the devices were installed, “people started doing the right thing very quickly.”

From habit stacking to shopping changes

Grgic asserts:

“I have come to understand our product as a two-phase change. 

The first one is that you feel like a shit about your poor behaviour. It's not an issue of knowledge but of accountability."

Grgic tells waste management authorities that the issue is not one of knowledge but accountability. 

“That's why a tracker in a person's home tends to improve behaviour  very quickly.” And is more effective than educational pamphlets or social media posts often preferred by waste management reminding people of the rules and to do the right thing.’

This is followed by a longer period where outwardly, nothing much is changing, but Grigic sees the data starting to seep into the subconscious.

“And then the next thing that starts to happen is people start making different purchase decisions because they're no longer just making a purchase decision of how this product might be serving me, but what, am I going to leave behind once I am done with it”

The company began to see a pattern emerging where people saw themselves as changed, saying things like, “I can't shop at my regular supermarket anymore, as the amount of packaging bothers me.”

The challenge of waste prevention hardware

Image: Binit Technologies.

Over the years, I’ve seen loads of food waste tech, from cameras in fridges with corresponding apps that provide a detailed inventory of fridge contents, a best-before tracker, shopping lists with automated links to online shopping, such as Amazon Fresh, to bins that read bar and qr codes to track waste. 

Grgic asserts that Binit is succeeding because of improved cameras and lower hardware costs, explaining, 

"It's no longer an expensive proposition for me to build an edge device that allows for image capture and then for me to process that image using artificial intelligence.

Grgic notes :

“If you have a QR code, number one, it's asking a lot of a user to stand there and position the object just so that the QR code can be scanned. So you're introducing another step into something that's already laborious.

So, having this camera near the bins that can take photos of you disposing of an item creates a seamless experience.

This has definitely been a surprise to many people who tested our product.

Like,’ Oh, we thought we had to go stand in front of it, you know, and take a picture of it.’

But that so not the case." 

That said, getting the hardware right's been a trial and error process.

Grgic shared: 

“We went through several iterations. As an entrepreneur, you want to have a Ferrari on day one, so you start adding all these hardware features. 

And then the complexity of the system starts ballooning.

So we ended up with hardware that cost $750 on the edge.

It had all sorts of computing power because we wanted to communicate instantaneously, right there on the screen. The impact on the battery was like a mini phone. But we couldn't settle on a short battery life. You cannot expect someone to charge this thing as much as they charge their watch or iPhone.”

So Binit started stripping its hardware back to the bare necessities and tested it with users. 

They realised that people simply wanted to be able to check a device once a day, or get their data downloads even once a week

“They do it, they check it to see how good the are, but maybe not obsessively or daily. It’s not another instagram account we are building here.”.

it's a daily habit and a kind of habit stacking where you can actually make a massive, massive imprint.”

That said, if the idea of a camera in your kitchen makes you feel uncomfortable, you’re not alone. Grgic stresses:

We were very, very aware of the privacy issues that would arise as a result of this.

We're already workiing things like proximity sensors to ensure that this device is off unless scanning a waste item. That the camera angle has a restricted maximum hight. 

We're also looking at different ways to position the device so that it captures only the bin area."

Differences in kitchen design, especially in tiny apartments, make it challenging. The company considered a bin with a sensor inside it but realised it would increase the price. So, it settled on a more stripped-back product that lives outside the bin and can serve any bin configuration. 

Binit's tech fights landfill costs

Binit has attracted the attention of both real estate developers and municipal waste management officials 

New York City has very low waste diversion; most of it goes into landfills. As a result, waste management costs over $2 billion annually. Grgic visited a municipal sanitation facility, where he saw trucks dumping waste into a massive pit.

Bulldozers compact the waste and push it into containers that sit underneath. The containers get sealed and travel to the docks, and off they go on a barge. Then they are sent by train to middle-of-the-country states where land selling fees cost less. There, the waste is buried. 

Grigic is at pains to add that the main motivation for the city isn’t sustainability per se, “it’s money. And they’re running out of space. So New York City has to ship it further out. And it's costing more and more because a permit for land for landfill is becoming harder in the US.”

Binit has also gained traction with building developers coming at the problem from an ESG perspective: 

“They’re intrigued by the idea of wasting less and also signing up to zero waste building commitments with smart tech pre-installed.“ 

What's next for the company?

Binit is piloting its hardware throughout Brooklyn and Austin over the summer. 

Brooklyn Crossing will be the first building in the world where Binit available to its residents this June.  There are also pilots continuing in Texas and being rolled out in Finland. 

The company also plans to offer devices for sale via its website in Q4 this year.

Lead image: Binit Technologies.

Follow the developments in the technology world. What would you like us to deliver to you?
Your subscription registration has been successfully created.