Want Wi-Fi in India? Throw Trash in This Signal-Generating Garbage Can

Two tech-savvy music lovers solved the litter-at-festivals problem by giving free Internet access to folks who chuck items in a souped-up refuse bin.
Aug 18, 2015·
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

An enormous crowd of screaming fans and an eclectic lineup of star-studded musical acts—those are the mainstays of outdoor music festivals. And, unfortunately, so are all the cups, soda and beer cans, plastic water bottles, tents, food containers, and other trash that attendees leave behind when the lights dim and the amps are unplugged.

How bad can the garbage aftermath of a festival get? After this year's Glastonbury Festival in England, nearly 1,300 volunteers picked up more than 1,650 tons of refuse in exchange for a free ticket to next year’s event. But a tech-savvy duo in India has come up with an initiative that could keep folks from tossing trash on the ground in the first place. Meet the "WiFi Trash Bin," a garbage can that gives folks a free Internet signal after they chuck items in it.

The concept is the brainchild of Mumbai-based Prateek Agarwal and Raj Desai, recent college graduates and music fans who have traveled to plenty of festivals in India and Europe over the years. The pair has seen firsthand how out of control the trash problem has gotten, but it was an experience at India’s popular, multi-city NH7 Weekender festival that sparked a solution to the issue.

"It took us six hours to find our friends. Since there was no network, we could not reach them through a phone call,” Agarwal told NDTV. Although there are more mobile phones than toilets in India, access to Wi-Fi is still limited across the South Asian country. It’s often only available in hotels or airports in major cities, and according to one survey, just 2.5 percent of households have it.

“It was the trigger for the idea and we thought why not provide free Wi-Fi to people using hotspots," said Agarwal. The two men collaborated with mobile operator MTS and festival operators and rolled out their Wi-Fi garbage bins at Weekender Festival events in Bangalore, Kolkata, and Delhi.

As seen in the video above, when people toss their cans, bottles, and other garbage into the bin, it flashes a Wi-Fi access code, enabling folks to text, tweet, and update selfies of their fabulous festival adventures to Instagram. It's unclear how much litter the project kept from being thrown on the ground, but according to the clip, it was used more than 10,000 times at the events. That might not seem like much to some folks, but this is no 177,000-person Glastonbury-style festival. To maintain quality, Weekender Festival's creators only sell about 9,000 tickets for each day, so the number of people who accessed the Wi-Fi bin is significant.

Related: A Pint of Beer at This Festival Might Be Brewed From Recycled Urine

"We wanted to change the attitude of the people and how things are structured, thus affecting an individual's behavior," said Desai.

The duo's Wi-Fi-generating garbage can was just a special prototype for the Weekender Festivals, but Desai and Agarwal are hoping to connect with investors who can help bring the idea to more concerts around the world. Given the lack of Wi-Fi in the country, it seems like the concept would be welcome in plenty of neighborhoods in India too.