Can Crows Help Solve Our Littering Problem?

Posted by Krissy Howard
crows clean litter
Digital Trends

Dutch inventors are using the thinking power of crows to help clean their city streets, one cigarette butt at a time. 

It’s fairly common knowledge that dogs and pigs are among the most intelligent animals, but there are other animals that are smarter than they get credit for – and they’re just about everywhere you look.

According to multiple reports, a Dutch start-up is turning to the brain power of crows to help them clean their city streets of thousands of cigarette butts.

When initial plans to use a robotic vacuum were scrapped for environmental reasons, researchers turned to the intelligent birds, who have proven capable of learning through reward-based lessons, to assist with the problem.

Ruben van der Vleuten said in an interview with Digital Trends:

“…we realized this would be very complex and would again pollute the environment because of the production of these machines. So we started looking at how we can use the environment itself. This is where we saw the opportunity to use pigeons but doing research online showed that there is another bird around cities which is far smarter.”

The project, called Crowded Cities, was designed by van der Vleuten and Bob Spikman and has resulted in a device known as the Crowbar, an inverted cone equipped with a camera.

When a bird drops a piece of litter inside the cone, called a crow box and designed by Joshua Klein, the camera will scan and dispense a treat as a reward for their effort. The duo has not yet run trial tests using actual birds, as they still have some factors to consider.

For one, most cigarette filters contain harmful chemicals, and may poison a crow’s system. The team must also consider what effect a reward-based system in crowded cities might have on the larger crow community. Lastly, the design might result in large swarms of crows hanging around smokers, possibly even pulling cigarettes from their hands in search of a tasty payment.

With all concerns in mind, the designers at Netherlands-based Crowded Cities hope to meet with specialists to discuss the possibility of using crow power to help clean city streets throughout the world.


Have you ever witnessed a bird picking up trash? What do you think of training crows, the ultimate problem solvers? Tell us in the comments!

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Can Crows Help Solve Our Littering Problem?