RFID Could Bring More-Realistic Pricing to Garbage Collection

It may not be too far into the future when your trash cans or recycling bins bear bar codes or some other scannable identification, according to a business professor at Southeastern Louisiana University.

Because costs of trash collection have increased significantly while landfill space diminishes, David Wyld says radio frequency identification (RFID) holds the potential to dramatically reduce the volume of trash and increase the amount of materials being recycled.

In fact, he says, “RFID can, for the first time, offer real incentives for individuals to participate in recycling programs from their own homes, helping the environment and their pocketbooks as well.”

An expert in the management of technology, Wyld said the trash business is often perceived as a low-tech, low-growth industry; RFID technology, however, has the potential to reinvent waste handling, revolutionizing the way municipalities and contractors bill for trash collection.

Traditionally, he explained, trash collection is performed for citizens at a flat fee.

“But the flat rate system provides no incentive to reduce the amount of waste put out for collection,” said Wyld, a business professor at Southeastern and blogger. “Heavy users pay the same as light users. This is not only inequitable, but also harmful to the environment because there are no incentives for individuals to participate in recycling, use composting or seek some other ways of reducing their trash volume.”

He said a radically different pricing model, known as “Pay As You Throw,” is starting to gain the attention of municipalities and waste contractors. Under this model, citizens pay a variable rate based on the amount of trash they actually put on the curb. More than 6,000 American cities are using this system. The approach has its own set of problems, however, including the tendency of residents to intentionally deposit trash in neighbors’ containers and the rise of illegal dumping of trash in remote areas.

“RFID is now being introduced into the waste management industry, and that makes this model more workable,” Wyld said.

The key, he explained, is individual tracking of trash containers, which are weighed on specially-equipped garbage trucks, making it possible to accurately ascertain the amount of garbage collected from each customer. Collection remains unchanged because the weighing is done as the container is lifted and emptied into the truck, thereby not slowing down the present system.

“The accuracy available through the use of automatic identification technology makes new concepts possible for individual accountability and tracking,” he said. “It also encourages more individual environmental responsibility when it comes to household management of waste. This encourages folks to recycle what can be recycled, decreasing their net trash output and consequently their weight-based trash charges.”

When it comes to recycling, Wyld said the RFID technology allows communities to provide incentives by not just reducing their Pay As You Throw garbage bills, but actually paying or providing rebates directly for the amount of material diverted from the landfill. Several firms, he said, are currently vying to fill this niche in the recycling market.

“Curbside may be one of the most promising areas for RFID technology to be employed,” he said, “not just for profits but for a greener world as well through better management of municipal solid waste.”

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