Talkin trash about RFID

Turns out that those opponents of radio frequency identification were right when they said the prospects for RFID were “rubbish.” Well, sort of. Cascade Engineering has introduced an automated system that uses "smart" waste containers, data readers and scales on trash trucks that will allow cities and towns nationwide to foster recycling and charge households by the weight of trash they put on the curb.

The EcoNology system records the trash disposal habits of individual households through the use of RFID chips embedded in plastic trash carts. Data sensors on trash trucks read the RFID chips as the carts are being lifted on forks outfitted with scales, and the weights of carts are recorded through on-board computers. The data is then sent to waster haulers that charge customers by the weight of trash they set out for disposal and potentially reward households that recycle diligently.

Cascade tested the viability of the automated data tracking and recording system through a pilot program developed by RecycleBank in Philadelphia to encourage recycling. As part of the program, Cascade supplied RFID-enabled waste containers to about 5,000 households in two Philadelphia neighborhoods.

The program gives participants $5 in coupons for every 10 pounds of paper, cans and bottles they put out on their curb each week. Households can earn up to $25 a month in coupons, good at participating local and national retailers that absorb the cost of the coupons. The city saves money on trash hauling, households get discounts, and businesses get foot traffic without paying for advertising.

The percentage of households who recycle in the test neighborhoods rose to 90%, up from less than 25% at the start of the program in spring last year. Not only did more homes participate, but they recycled more of their trash. The average recycling rate, which compares how diligent residents are about recycling everything allowed, rose from less than 5% to more than 50%.

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