St. Paul taxpayers paid $4 million for “little grabber hands”that don’t work and a tracking chip: Don’t worry the government just wants to know what you’re up to.


St. Paul taxpayers recently received 80,000 new blue recycling bins from Eureka Recycling.

While that seems like a nice thing to do I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that those same taxpayers footed the bill for those new bins to the tune of nearly $4 million.

I like recycling.  I think it’s a worthy thing to do.  I could be better at it.  I suspect most of us could be better at it.

I do appreciate the idea that we don’t need to separate items any longer for recycling.  I never did think that made much sense.

Now, sadly, the new contract that the City has with Eureka Recycling isn’t exactly something that makes sense, either.

For example, the new system requires homeowners to have these fancy new blue recycling bins in exactly the right spot, at exactly the right angle at exactly the right time for Eureka trucks to actually be able to use their automatic truck systems to pick them up.

If they aren’t in exactly the right spot, at exactly the right angle and at exactly the right time they cannot be picked up based on the contract that Eureka Recycling has with the City of St. Paul.

I swear to the God of Recycling I did not make this up!

And, to prove it, here is a quote from an official from Eureka Recycling from a recent story in the Pioneer Press:

“We’re noticing that a really high percentage of carts aren’t in the right placement for the automated trucks to service them,” said Lynn Hoffman, a co-president at Eureka Recycling. “The carts need to be at the alley line, and they need to be away from garages — about an arm’s length, or two feet — and away from cars and garbage cans, so the little grabber hands can get around the carts and not damage (anything).”

So, you see, the “little grabber hands” aren’t the problem here.

It’s the 80,000 households in St. Paul that need a crash course in knowing exactly where their alley line is…that the can has to be exactly “about an arm’s length, or two feet” …and wait…wait…it also must be “away from cars and garbage cans.”

You got that?

Seriously, let’s help those “little grabber hands” so they can pick up your recycling bin.

The one, by the way, that has a radio frequency identification device in it.

Or, as the cool kids call it…RFID.

Didn’t know you had one of those in your blue recycling bin?

Don’t worry.

Neither did 79,999 of your neighbors throughout St. Paul.

But, you are now the proud owner of that chip and the blue recycling bin it comes in thanks to the $4 million of our money that city and county government paid to have planted in your yard.

Don’t care about whether the RFID chip can track details of your recycling habits?  Or lack of them?

Okay, great.  Good for you.

Maybe not so good for you when the City Council ultimately passes an ordinance that will begin creating an entire series of laws for recycling that can, and will, utilize the technology that will enable that RFID to see if you are following that ordinance.

And, if you aren’t, cite you for failing to abide by said ordinance.

Think they won’t do that?

Well, okay, then wonder why they would need to have such a chip in a recycling bin?

To keep someone from stealing the bin?

I guess that could be the reason.

But, after living in St. Paul for more than 20 years I have had my garage broken into and stuff stolen from my car parked in the front of my house and stuff even stolen from my yard in the middle of the day.

None of the things that were ever stolen had the word “garbage” or “recycling” or “bin” in them.

In response to people who have been asking why the City or Eureka Recycling wouldn’t have bothered to communicate that such a tracking device is actually in the bin here’s the response from the City:

“The microchip actually isn’t being used,” said Joe Ellickson, a spokesman for Public Works. “We don’t actually have any plans to utilize this, and if we did, we’d go through a public process.”

Now I am not sure that the words “public process” means what the Public Works spokesman thinks they mean.

Because I think they mean that the public would have been told about a tracking chip being put into a recycling bin that someday is going to be used to track.

And, the phrase “We don’t actually have any plans to utilize this…” are reminiscent of my days when I was involved with the Nuclear Freeze Movement.

It was the government’s response about why we needed to have so many nuclear weapons.

It wasn’t that we actually had any plans to use them we just needed them in case we needed to use them.

So, what the Public Works spokesman is saying is that they will only use the RFID chip when they need them.

You know, like as a deterrent against people not recycling the right way.

Or, maybe when they aren’t putting their bins “about an arm’s length, or two feet – and away from cars and garbage cans, so the little grabber hands can get around the carts…”

Kind of Mutually Assured Destruction in the fight against recycling scofflaws.

If you don’t recycle right the RFID chip is going to have your exact geographic location to hold you accountable.

So, am I losing sleep about the RFID tracking my movements?

Nope.  Not really.

I do lose sleep about government that feels it can withhold information from taxpayers about technology that does have the potential to track their personal information.

Maybe you don’t care.  Great.  Good for you.

But, maybe there are people who do care.  Maybe even people that don’t want government to be able to track our movements.

Maybe who don’t want a private entity like Eureka Recycling to have that private information about our movements and be able to profit from it — and share it with others.

Like the government. Or another private entity.

Or track what we recycle.  Or don’t.

Or how far away the recycling bin is in order for those little grabber hands to be able to pick up the cart.

I also lose sleep about government claiming it has no “current plans” to use something when it obviously must have some thoughts about “future plans” or why buy the bins with the chip in it in the first place?

And, in the meantime can Eureka Recycling be using this technology?  Are they using it?

Are they allowed to collect it without our individual consent and permission?

How would we know?  How can we know?

The City isn’t answering that question. Nor is Eureka Recycling.

Like many Americans I have been deeply troubled by reports that foreign governments hacked into public and private accounts in an attempt to have influence over our most recent election.

The idea that a foreign government would not just attack our government and its systems, but also attempt to track and monitor private American citizens is chilling.

Shouldn’t it be just as chilling when city government invests in a technology that pure and simple allows it to spy on its own citizens?

And, shouldn’t it be even more chilling to know they and the company they contracted with made no effort to let 80,000 St. Paul households know they are going to do it?

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