Swedish start-up Corvid Cleaning will launch a pilot project in which Södertälje’s wild crows will be trained to exchange small pieces of rubbish and cigarette butts for food in a bespoke machine.
“They are wild birds taking part on a voluntary basis,” said Christian Günther-Hanssen, the founder of Corvid Cleaning, the company behind the method.
The Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation says that more than 1bn cigarette butts are left on Sweden’s streets each year, representing 62% of all litter. Södertälje spends 20m Swedish kronor (£1.6m) on street cleaning.
Günther-Hanssen estimates his method could save at least 75% of costs involved with picking up cigarette butts in the city.
Södertälje is carrying out a pilot project before potentially rolling out the operation across the city, with the health of the birds being the key consideration given the type of waste involved.
New Caledonian crows, a member of the corvid family of birds, are as good at reasoning as a human seven-year-old, research has suggested, making them the smartest birds for the job.
Günther-Hanssen said: “They are easier to teach and there is also a higher chance of them learning from each other. At the same time, there’s a lower risk of them mistakenly eating any rubbish”.