Chain of Thought

Garbage In, Garbage Out, Garbage RFID

Cleveland (home city of MATERIAL HANDLING & LOGISTICS) may have lost out on the LeBron James sweepstakes (he went to Miami), and it may have lost the NA trade show (which ended up getting rebranded as Modex and is headed to Atlanta), but one thing they can't take away from Cleveland is garbage. When it comes to keeping track of its garbage, Cleveland is world class.

The city plans to start tagging roll carts with RFID chips that will track if, when and how often residents are recycling their trash. Flagrant abusers of the recycling protocols -- meaning those who put more than 10% of recyclable stuff in with their regular trash rather than segregating the cans, glass, paper, etc. -- will get hit with a $100 fine.

But that's not all. Cleveland is also investing in automated garbage trucks that will allow the drivers to stay in their cabs and use a robotic arm to lift the roll carts into the trucks. If you've lived through a typical Cleveland winter, you won't begrudge the drivers the opportunity to remain inside the (presumably) heated cabs. Of course, the new trucks, as well as the RFID chips and roll carts, will be paid for by the taxpayers, who will also be the ones paying the fines if they don't comply.

Why is Cleveland doing this, you wonder. That's easy -- there's a lot of money to be found in that trash. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer article which reported on the story, Cleveland had 220,000 tons of garbage in 2009, and every one of those tons the city $30 to haul away to a landfill. That comes to a hefty price tag of $6.6 million per year, and that was during a recession year when many of those Cleveland residents weren't exactly living the high life thanks to double-digit unemployment in the region. On the plus side, the city can earn back $26 for every ton of trash it recycles. In 2009 it made $143,000 on 5,800 tons of recycled garbage. Now just imagine if the city can convince a significant number of non-recycling residents to get with the program, while convincing everyone else to pick up their recycling pace. And note also that in the article, the city is already counting on issuing 4,000 tickets for non-compliance, which at $100 per ticket adds up to a 400 grand. There could conceivably be a cool million just sitting there in the garbage, and that's not exactly an amount that city councilors would turn up their noses at.

Of course, this plan is predicated on a number of assumptions: first, that people aren't already recycling everything that ought to be recycled; second, that public uproar won't loudly protest the spending of $2.5 million on these RFID-enabled trash carts when many other public services are being drastically curtailed or eliminated; and third, that these new carts actually work as advertised. Here's a video demonstrating the basic operation.

At any rate, Clevelanders will soon get a chance to show the nation their proficiency at trash talking.

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