Homes, Cities Turn to Trash-Monitoring Devices to Keep Shelves Stocked

Throw IoT connectivity into the trash and garbage is transformed into data that reorders the products that were just thrown away. For June’s Intelligence of Things (IoT) Tracker, Rob Griffin, cofounder of GeniCan, spoke with PYMNTS about how connected trash devices are helping households never miss buying the things they have run out of. That, plus the latest news and trends in connected technology and rankings of 189 providers, inside the latest Tracker.

There aren’t many products that go directly into the trash as soon as they’re purchased. But in the IoT world, that’s where some connected devices belong.

Why? Location, location, location. Since the trash bin is where household waste goes, it’s the ideal spot for connected products to keep tabs on household supplies in need of replenishment.

Other connected products like Amazon Echo and Google Home are prominently displayed in homes, but trash monitoring devices can keep a household connected from the less-visible confines of a waste bin.

The smart waste management market has a diverse array of solutions to serve both households and municipalities. Several such solutions were on display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year by companies both famous and obscure. To help households make good use of waste, appliance manufacturer Whirlpool showcased its Zera Food Recycler, which can be controlled via smartphone to convert food into fertilizer. Another home goods company called Simplehuman offers a waste bin that opens its lid in response to voice commands. Later this year, the firm plans to launch a new version that will reorder trash bags from Amazon’s Dash Replenishment Service (DRS).

Other IoT devices are using trash management to simultaneously work on household inventory management. In an effort to help households keep their pantries full, device manufacturer GeniCan, which made its debut at CES this year, recently released its own product that attaches to a trash can and uses a barcode scanner and voice-command prompts to help consumers build shopping lists and reorder items that they want to replenish. PYMNTS recently caught up with GeniCan cofounder Rob Griffin, who shared his thoughts on how bringing greater connectivity to the trash bin could alter the grocery shopping experience.

Using trash to build a shopping list

From pen and paper to smartphone apps, there is no shortage of ways to keep on top of the household grocery list. But every now and then an item can slip through the cracks and get left off the list, which can be a frustrating realization after returning from the store.

Griffin said GeniCan was conceived out of his own personal experience with making a smarter grocery list. He said that one day he and his wife were debating how to handle their grocery store shopping list. The couple tried creating shopping lists using a smartphone app to manage the list, but Griffin’s wife preferred pen and paper. But after seeing his 9-year-old son throw away a ketchup bottle in the recycling bin, Griffin had an idea.

“As he threw away that bottle, I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. How do I get him to add [the ketchup] to the list? He doesn’t have a cellphone, and he’s not going to write it down,’” he said.

Instead of pen or paper or an app, GeniCan lets the trash can take stock of what needs replacing. The device can be mounted to the side of an everyday trash or recycling bin and is equipped with a bar code scanner that reads discarded items’ universal product code (UPC). As an item is tossed away, the user briefly holds the UPC in front of the scanner to have it automatically added to their grocery shopping list through the GeniCan smartphone app.

The idea is to bypass consumer forgetfulness by adding the item to a shopping list at the right opportunity, namely when the item is being tossed out.

“You’re already going to the garbage can or recycling bin to throw something away,” Griffin said. “Why not take inventory of that item while you’re doing the activity of throwing it away?”

In addition to a barcode scanner, the device is also equipped with voice-recognition technology that enables users to add items to their shopping list using voice commands. Griffin noted that this feature can be useful when consumers are disposing of items that do not have a UPC, such as fruit or vegetables, meat or paper towel tubes.

And to help keep households aware of how full the bins around the home are, the device can also send alerts to users’ smart devices to let them know the trash bins are full. For parents who don’t want to remind their kids to remember their chores, the feature could offer a welcome reprieve from nagging.

A smarter way to grocery shop online?

In addition to helping users build a grocery list from the moment they throw an item away, Griffin said GeniCan is also promising to disrupt the way consumers shop for groceries and supplies online. GeniCan has partnered with Amazon’s DRS to have items that are scanned by the GeniCan device shipped directly to the consumer’s home.

“That can free up people’s time to do other things and make streamlining the online ordering so much easier and seamless,” Griffin said.

By offering a feature that immediately connects to Amazon’s DRS, not only is GeniCan helping consumers access the rapidly growing online grocery shopping market, but Griffin said the product’s automated services are also changing the shopping experience itself.

As Griffin observed, whether a consumer shops for groceries online or at a traditional brick-and-mortar store, the process is largely the same because in both settings items must be located (whether on physical or digital shelves) and placed in a shopping cart, and the consumer must complete the checkout process.

Offering an automated ordering feature cuts down the number of steps involved in shopping, he said, and allows the consumer to move through checkout faster.

“That process has evolved,” he said. “You no longer need to go to a store aisle or a web page. You just need to have it scanned and delivered.”

The evolution of a potentially overwhelming market

In recent years, several trash management solutions have emerged that are poised to change the way households and cities handle their waste. At the municipal level, companies such as SmartBin and Compology offer smart trash bins that can alert city and town managers when they are full and help officials build more efficient trash routes with real-time data insights. According to some reports, the market for smart waste technology is expected to grow from $57.6 million in 2016 to as much as $223.5 million by 2023, a CAGR of 16.3 percent.

Looking ahead, Griffin says products such as GeniCan will be a key component of smart kitchen design. He mentioned that the company is in talks with another manufacturer to integrate GeniCan directly into a bin instead of having it mounted externally.

“Kitchens will evolve and integrate these technologies as they make people’s lives easier,” he said.

But as more connected devices are introduced to the market, he worries that consumers will become overwhelmed by the availability of devices. Griffin fears that if consumers are inundated by connected products, it can reflect poorly on the broader market.

“We run the risk as an industry of creating too many products that either do repetitive tasks or overlap each other in a way that can give the entire industry a bad taste in consumer’s minds,” he said.

To avoid that, Griffin said manufacturers should “let consumer demand be their true guiding compass” to developing new connected products. He praised smart home companies like Nest and Ring for offering specific services to help households, such as energy management tools and connected doorbells. Other products, like smart refrigerators by Samsung Electronics, help households manage their food storage and schedules by integrating food management, communication and calendar tools. But with so many companies offering so many connected products, Griffin worries that the changing nature of appliances and other household goods will scare off consumers and reduce the number of early adopters of connected tech.

Going forward, he would like other manufacturers to develop products that fulfill a specific purpose so consumers don’t get bogged down by too much connected technology.

“I hope that continues in the next five to 10 years and we have purposeful products that solve consumer needs and do so in an impactful way but also a responsible way,” he said.

Giving the household trash bin additional responsibilities — from inventory management to a voice-activated user experience — appears to be a step in the right direction.

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About The Tracker

The Intelligence of Things Tracker™ showcases companies that are leading the way in all aspects of the Intelligence of Things. Every month, the Tracker looks at what these companies are doing across the ecosystem and in several categories, including Personal, Home, Retail, Transportation, Wearable, Mobile, Infrastructure, Data and more.