San Francisco is becoming world-renowned for its filthy streets covered in used drug needles and human excrement. Last week the city committed to a plan to do something about the garbage problem. It is buying sensors from a Danish company which use a laser to detect the amount of trash in a can and, when the can is full, will send a signal to the city that it needs to be emptied. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

City officials announced last week — after studying and sniffing high-tech trash cans for months — that they have agreed to retrofit 1,000 sidewalk trash cans with a small sensor device from a Danish company, instead of leasing more of the rectangular Bigbelly trash cans that have popped up recently in San Francisco.

The Danish sensors cost $294 outright. The Bigbelly trash cans rent for $3,000 a year…

The devices make it possible for the city to know at any moment how much trash is in its cans and to dispatch a trash truck to empty a can before it overflows onto the street…

In coming weeks, the 1,000 new trash sensors will be catching a plane in Copenhagen, bound for San Francisco. They will be installed beginning next month. The Danish company will provide the installers, Maestrini said — that’s part of the deal. Another plus, he said, is that the batteries are included.

I’ve beat up on San Francisco plenty of times over the filth and human waste but in this case, it seems like this could be a real improvement, assuming they have the manpower ready to empty the cans when the device says they are full. In fact, as Business Insider points out, this is applying the “broken windows” theory to trash:

[Nordsense CEO Anders] Engdal said overflowing trash bins are a sure-fire sign that illegal dumping will soon follow. They’re also a signal to the rest of the neighborhood that it’s okay to litter. (The idea behind this phenomenon, known as the “broken windows” theory, essentially says that civil disorder encourages more civil disorder down the line.)

This really might help but I doubt it’s going to stop junkies from tossing needles wherever they happen to be shooting up. I also suspect it won’t do much to stop people from taking a dump on the sidewalk. It’s not like people who do that are going to suddenly decide to scoop it up and deposit it in a trash can because the bin isn’t full. So, good effort San Francisco, but if people are still pooping in the streets, I think the broken windows theory would suggest those neighborhoods are going to tend toward chaos, not order.

And that brings us back to the real problem here which is homelessness. That’s where a lot of these downstream problems are coming from. Yesterday, KRON 4 in the Bay Area reported that residents in San Jose felt homelessness was getting out of control:

“There’s a lot of trash littering the streets. Everything from big piles of garbage to used furniture to appliances,” said [San Jose resident James] Gardner.

He’s sympathetic — and understands how expensive it is to live in San Jose, but says he’s now unable to go for walks with his daughter.

He’s contacted the city several times but says nothing has been done.

“It’s been brought to their attention, and they’ve discussed that it’s going to be cleaned up, but it hasn’t been. It’s only gotten worse,” Gardner said.

Here’s the full KRON 4 report: