Researchers to test use of CCTV for measuring litter

Written by Alan Robertson on 24 July 2015 in News

University of Strathclyde awarded contract to develop innovative software package

A contract to develop software that allows the use of CCTV to monitor instances of littering across Scotland has been awarded.

Researchers at the University of Strathclyde have been tasked with creating and testing a software package that would allow automatic image recognition and CCTV cameras to detect when litter is being dropped.  

However, Zero Waste Scotland, which awarded the work, has said the system would not be able to identify individuals dropping litter and therefore would not be used in order to issue fines.


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Instead, its purpose is to move beyond current methodologies for measuring litter which are, according to Zero Waste Scotland, a “poor measure of behaviour” as they involve counting up items on the ground.

Surveys of litter on the ground are therefore a “highly indirect and potentially misleading” measure when it comes to assessing the progress of initiatives designed to cut down on litter.

Latest figures suggest £53million of public money is spent each year tackling litter and flytipping.

“The software would enable automatic image recognition and CCTV to capture the instances of littering over a period of time and/or by footfall in a specified area,” said a spokeswoman for Zero Waste Scotland.

“It is intended to capture changes in movement, such as a small object (an item of litter) detaching from a larger object (a person), and as such will not be possible to identify a specific person using this system. 

“It is not intended to be used for any other purposes, including to issue fines or to identify individuals who are littering.”

The work, which was put out to tender in April, will see “testing of the concept” undertaken in order “to prove the viability of the approach within laboratory conditions”.

An initial version of the software, which Zero Waste Scotland can use for measuring the impact of interventions at a single site, is then to be developed.

Once accuracy and use in a range of conditions is guaranteed, the intention would be to roll the system out across a number of places in Scotland for “ongoing monitoring”. 

The spokeswoman added: "The contract has been awarded to University of Strathclyde. The project is currently being considered by the Ethics Panel and the Scottish Government.

“Due to the experimental nature of the project, there are built in breaks to allow revision at different stages."

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