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A push towards recycling with RFID

The choice not to recycle should be hard, expensive and inconvenient. This is one of the best ways to change consumer and corporate behavior. Luckily RFID can make this happen.

Most of us care about the environment, but unfortunately, most of us are not ready to sacrifice much for it - not money, nor too much time. We're only human, right? So the system must be "human-proof". We have to make sure recycling is easy and rewarding. Recycling should lower your costs, not increase them. It should save time and effort instead of wasting it. With RFID, we can change the system so that it encourages us to be "good citizens".

BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS WITH RECYCLING

Changing recycling behavior is more complicated than one would think. People are creatures of habit and it takes a lot to automate a new behavior. Most of the challenges relate to motivating people to "find out" and "follow". This might be why:

  1. Anonymity - It's too easy to avoid getting caught for misbehaving. There are no consequences.
  2. Recycling costs - Being a good citizen actually costs more than not being one, in this case. Recycling some type of garbage is more expensive than others tempting people to break rules and put everything in the same mixed-garbage-container.
  3. Sharing of costs in housing cooperatives - The point of sharing costs in housing cooperatives (like row houses and apartment buildings) is to save money. But this doesn't mean the costs have to be split evenly within the housing cooperative. "Pay-as-you-throw" is a concept that we will investigate further below.
  4. Complicated systems - The recycling systems are complicated, demand memorizing and vary from community to community.
  5. Laziness - Pretty self-explanatory and a cause of the problems mentioned above.

THE BENEFITS OF IMPLEMENTING RFID

We are going to tackle the problems mentioned above systematically one by one by introducing "recycling with RFID". How would it work? The first thing we will do is to provide all residents with a personal RFID card. The tags could be typical passive sticker tags that are cheap and easy to use and renew. The information in the tag would be the resident's name, address and house/apartment number. The consumer simply does not get access to the containers without scanning their personal RFID card.  This means, all trash has a designated owner that will be held responsible for recycling correctly. Personal RFID cards effectively tackle problem number 1 - Anonymity.

More and more retail consumer merchandise is being tagged. The RFID waste system requires that distributors start implementing item-level-tagging, at least on all items that can be recycled, and that these tags contain recycling and content material information. The tags will basically be able to tell the "smart container" (equipped with an RFID reader) what they are made of. The "smart container" will then communicate with green and red led lights to let the consumer know whether it is ok to throw in the trash or not. The consumer can of course choose to throw it in either way, but no misdeed goes unpunished since the container knows who committed the sin. The resident will get a penalty on the next bill. This "pay-as-you-throw" system tackles problem number 2 - Recycling costs. It is now cheaper to recycle than not to recycle. The cities of Cincinnati and Grand Rapids implemented a waste management system somewhat similar to this that makes their waste management processes more efficient and changes the recycling behavior of the residents.

Smart recycling

Most waste management systems are based on the principle that the containers are emptied a certain amount of times a month regardless whether they are full or not. But "smart containers" can automatically inform the garbage collector whether they need empting or not without anyone even having to take a peek inside the container. This saves the garbage collector's time on the regular route and could lower the costs for that particular pick.

"Pay-as-you-throw" does not mean that housing cooperatives would have to give up using shared container systems and split the costs for waste management. But the bill would contain information about how much to charge each resident instead of simply sharing all costs evenly, which tackles problem number 3 - Sharing of costs in housing cooperatives.

Now, let's get back to the "smart containers". The red and green led lights will, as mentioned earlier, guide the residents towards a correct recycling behavior without them having to learn about different kinds of plastics and community waste systems etc. It's like recycling with a mentor beside you. Really futuristic "smart container pools" could even have an information kiosk that will tell consumers in which "smart container" to recycle a certain item just by flashing it before the RFID reader. And with that, recycling is made easy and we have tackled problem number 4 - Complicated systems. Eventually the residents will learn and know it by heart, at least with their favorite products.

With the RFID waste system problematic non-environmental-friendly waste would cost more to dispose of, leading consumers to actively choosing brands that use packages that are environmental-friendly and thereby cheap to get rid of. This will, as a result, give companies that choose environmental-friendly materials a competitive edge and encourage others to do the same.

With this system at place and working, recycling will be somewhat forced upon us, but also easier and more fun. Even the laziest residents might pick themselves up and get on with it. The system is almost lazy- and greedy-proof, as it should be - because, we are only human. Thereby problem number 5 - Laziness, is (hopefully) solved.

Sorted trash

METRO TAIFUN WASTE SYSTEM INNOVATION

Waste management is a constant area for new innovations. The Housing Fair Finland Co-op in Tampere 2012 had a suburb equipped with the "MetroTaifun waste collecting system". The idea is that trash is transported to the waste management location completely through underground tubes. The residents can drop all their trash in a small container that is directly linked to the underground system. This system reduces garbage transportation above ground and working hours of the waste management personnel. It sounds fantastic, though it probably is applicable only in new rural areas.

The system could be developed even further with RFID as item-level-tagging becomes more common. All sorting of the garbage could be more or less automated and thereby saving costs, time and working hours even further.

COMING UP NEXT

The tube waste system isn't perhaps for everyone, but it sure makes a city look attractive since there is no garbage and garbage trucks on the streets. We are eagerly waiting to see where these new innovations will take us! Hopefully not down the tube. ;)

In this article we have only looked at the benefits of RFID in waste management regarding consumer behavior. This is, of course, only a teeny-tiny part of the RFID benefit package in waste management. The benefits of RFID in the whole waste chain are tremendous, but we will discuss them further in the next waste management article. So, don't miss it!

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