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
BEHAVIORAL PROBLEMS WITH
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:
- Anonymity - It's too easy to avoid getting caught for
misbehaving. There are no consequences.
- 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.
- 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
- Complicated systems - The recycling systems are
complicated, demand memorizing and vary from community to
- Laziness - Pretty self-explanatory and a cause of the
problems mentioned above.
THE BENEFITS OF IMPLEMENTING
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.
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
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
METRO TAIFUN WASTE SYSTEM
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
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!