Smart trash cans: You will never miss a basketball shot again

Smart trash made headlines a couple of years ago when Minoru Kurata, an engineer at a Japanese auto maker, won an award for his Smart Trash Can that detects the direction of the trash, moving by itself to catch it.

Kurata designed a wall-mounted sensor to detect which way you throw the trash. A computer computes the direction of the trash quickly and moves accordingly to catch it. The Smart Trash Can put a new twist in throwing out garbage by making it a fun activity rather than a chore. But other than its entertainment value, are there advantages to smart trash, and will it be having an impact on your household anytime soon?

Smart trash – Where next?

Smart trash cans are already becoming a feature in Barcelona, where they have begun to place recycling trashcans with monitoring sensors that send out a signal when the trash can is full. The signal alerts the homeowners to empty out the trash, reduce waste, and recycle more. Sensors also notify garbage trucks when trash cans are full, so they know which trash cans to empty. Collections are a significant cost in waste management and being able to sidestep the process of manually checking to see if trash cans need emptying offers considerable cost savings.

The next step for garbage collection is sorting of waste and the extraction of reusable materials. Here again, sensors can help identify and sort paper, plastics, glass, and metals, increasing the amount of waste sent for recycling and reducing that sent to landfill. In Norway, a new generation of trash sorting machines are said to do the job better than humans. Using spectography and infrared light they can analyze materials in a split second and sort items accordingly.

There are potentially other applications unrelated to the direct disposal of waste. Some have suggested that sensors in smart trash cans could help homeowners stock up on goods via the Internet of things, and help businesses reduce waste and optimize their supply chains by identifying shopping trends and habits among consumers. Smart trash cans could monitor household waste and record information such as items consumed and duration of use, for example, how long it takes a household to consume a particular bulk purchase such as a pack of diapers or a 5kg bag of rice. Other measurements might be consumer demographics and analysis of purchases by area. Companies would be able to track this kind of information and be better able to plan and localize and supply chain, leading to less waste, more cost savings and increased customer satisfaction.

Whether or not consumers will warm to a trash can that tracks their household waste and shopping habits – or even a trash can that moves — is an entirely different question, but the potential benefits of smart trash in terms of the environment, waste management, cost-savings and consumer understanding are difficult to ignore. With the rapid advance of the Internet of things and its promise of increased connectivity it appears certain that, in one form or another, smart trash cans will soon become a regular fixture in our neighborhoods and homes. is a global marketplace for innovation and intellectual property (IP) that makes access to legal, investment and other services easier for startups, inventors, small businesses, universities and companies. Need help or information for your business or intellectual property? Post a question to our legal and IP experts. See our IP Nexus explainer video here.
Your one-stop shop for innovation and intellectual property Join us today