How to Collect Garbage Using RFID


Special thanks to reader Simon for sending in this story about Athens garbage collection this past week. The system involves tagged garbage containers and reader-equipped trucks.

This type of set-up can have variety of benefits, i.e. logging the “when” and “where” of garbage pick-up. Handy info for route planning. In terms of the “what,” weight data can also be captured, such as in the UK: the weight of containers’ contents is calculated when lifted by the truck and associated with individual customers via RFID for pay-by-weight billing. Of course, this has spurred both privacy concerns and some more traditional controversies last fall. From The Daily Mail:

Town hall chiefs say the monitoring system will improve recycling rates by allowing them to identify areas which are not doing enough.

But critics believe the ultimate aim is to charge ‘offenders’ according to how much unrecyclable rubbish they leave outside for collection.

(I am not sympathetic to these “critics”. Hauling your waste away and disposing of it is not free — throw away more, pay more. In Santa Monica, California, the city government supports an environmental consultancy, Sustainable Works, that can help local businesses reduce their garbage-related fees and save money. They do other stuff, too.)

There are numerous examples where RFID is being applied to optimizing garbage pick-up and I’m sure it will continue where there are savings to be made. Here’s a good article on RFID’s potential in the solid waste industry. The date? February 1, 1995. It mentions over one million transponders assigned to waste bins worldwide.

Yet in 2004, this vision of Solid Waste Management circa 2010 notes that one professional was looking forward to RFID systems. At any rate, it seems appropriate systems are available and it’s a matter of more firms or municipalities developing business cases for making the investment in their city or region, like Wastech Services in Vancouver.

However, if RFID is always on add-on, I’m sure it won’t make sense for every instance of waste pick-up service. But if waste-handling equipment evolves to a point where integrated RFID technology is standard, then it’ll obviously be a different set of economics.

How is that going?

106-year-old Heil is the oldest maker of “refuse and recycling collection vehicles” in the US. Their foreign network of service centers reaches 150 countries. “By a wide margin, more garbage men wake up and turn the key in their Heil before going to work than any other brand.”

Search for RFID in Heil’s website and see what you get. Zero. Nothing about innovations in wireless data-collection, nothing about partnerships with systems integrators, nothing about successes with customers. While this is just one data point, I think it is telling.

P.S. My favorite class in university was about optimizing solid waste management systems… this brings fond back memories.

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