Startup Uses AI-Powered Garbage Bins to Monitor Pollution

Seabin wants to turn its plastic waste collectors into advanced data collectors.
Chris Young
One of Seabin's sea bins Seabin/Facebook

In 2013, Peter Ceglinski and Andrew Turton set up their firm, Seabin, with a selfless ambition: "our ultimate goal is pretty simple. It's a world where sea bins are no longer needed for clean up," Ceglinski said, speaking at IBM Think Australia and New Zealand last month.

As a report by ZDNet explains, the creators behind Seabin are focusing on building a future where their own product is only used for monitoring the sea, not for cleaning garbage. The cornerstone to this development is artificial intelligence (AI).

"What started out as a garbage can has evolved into this global mission focused on data and behavioral change," Ceglinski said at IBM Think. "If you replace the words garbage can with data monitoring unit, you start to see the monster we've created."

'Data is king' for Seabin creators

A Seabin acts a little like a pool skimmer for the ocean. It sits on the sea's surface capturing floating pollution inside a filter while letting water out of the bottom of the machine.

Now, with over a thousand sea bins deployed in 53 countries, and approximately 35 million plastic items collected, the team behind the technology is looking at new ways it can utilize the machines. 

"Data is king — it's not rocket science, we count things, it's a pain in the ass, to be honest, but it's worth it. We never had a big pile of money, so we started with paper and pens, manually uploading to a spreadsheet, double-handling everything, but we did what we could," Ceglinski said.

Startup Uses AI-Powered Garbage Bins to Monitor Pollution
The device at the heart of Seabin's mission to tackle plastic waste. Source: Seabin/Facebook

Seabin currently has 71 data volunteers in 19 countries uploading the data.

"From our data program, we know that each day we filter over 500 million liters of water and we capture about 4.2 tonnes of plastic, microplastics, plastic fibers, oil, and more."

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"We physically counted over 71,000 data entries from around the world, which converts into an estimated 35 million plastic items prevented from entering our oceans in the last three years using the Seabin hardware," Ceglinski said.

Ceglinski and Turton set up the Seabin Foundation two years ago with the aims of helping to focus the science and data behind their project, as well as to educate the general public.

"Technology alone will not save us, only we can save ourselves, but the challenge isn't really plastic pollution, it's human behavior, and with that, clean up became a by-product of what we do," Ceglinski said. "So we're turning off the tap, we're monitoring data, and we're cleaning up at the same time."

Turning to AI to tackle plastic pollution at source

This year, Seabin hopes to use data to help tackle the problem of plastic pollution at its source, making it a company that aims to prevent the problem rather than swimming against the current of plastic waste production.

The company has a new mobile app, a dashboard, automated impact reporting, and an interactive web map. "Best yet," Ceglinski says, is the fact that Seabin can now collect real-time data via cloud-based IoT capabilities.

Seabin wants to extend its reach to 194 countries worldwide — the exact number of countries on Earth that are not landlocked and have a shoreline.

"They all have the same plastic pollution problems … and we can help them all to make informed decisions based on our data — the path to scale is mind-blowing," he said.

The next step, the team says, is to apply artificial intelligence in a way that can help monitor and collect data efficiently. The ultimate goal is to help governments create policies that will help to fix the plastic waste problem before it ever reaches the ocean.

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