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Communities Turn to RFID to Boost Recycling

Three U.S. municipalities are using passive UHF tags to monitor whether their residents place recyclable bottles, cans and paper out at the curb.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 14, 2008For many years, Howard County's Bureau Of Environmental Services, in Maryland, had no idea which households were placing recyclable bottles, cans and paper out at the curb for pickup, and which were not. But in September 2007, the county launched a pilot program that includes EPC Gen 2 RFID tags attached to the recycling containers, with interrogators installed on trucks. As a result, the county can now track who is recycling, and who is not.

Once it fully deploys the system in September, the county intends to use RFID-generated data to send postcards to those who fail to recycle. The missives will educate the recipients about the importance of recycling, says Alan Wilcom, chief of the county's recycling division, and explain how it is done. The current pilot involves one truck route and 5,000 households, each of which received a tagged recycling container, known as a cart. After Labor Day, Howard County plans to expand the program countywide, to all 72,000 households and 15 trucks. The RFID system is being provided by Concept2 Solution.

In Pleasant Prairie, Wis., an RFID antenna (enclosed in a gray rectangle housing) reads a cart's RFID tag as it is tipped into the hopper.
In early 2007, Pennsylvania's Cranberry Township began using a similar Concept2 system to track recycling rates throughout its community. Since then, Pleasant Prairie, Wis., has also begun utilizing the system. Like Howard County, Pleasant Prairie attaches Alien Technology EPC Gen 2 Squiggle tags to its recycling containers, and uses a computer on its truck to store data about recycling "tips" (each time the truck dumps a container's contents into its hopper) and downloads that information when the truck returns to its depot.

The RFID technology company is presently in discussion with three other communities to use the system, says Joe Franz, Concept 2's director of business development. All three existing deployments are currently in pilot stages, each involving one or two trucks, with plans to expand the systems once the pilots are completed.

In Cranberry, two of the township's trucks are equipped with Motorola RFID interrogators. The township's recycling containers are each fitted with an Alien EPC Gen 1 RFID tag deployed by another systems integrator for a pilot that never took place. Because Alien's EPC Gen 2 tag offers a higher read rate than its Gen 1 predecessor, Concept2 has attached a Gen 2 tag to each truck's lift as a backup for instances in which a container's Gen 1 tag cannot be read.

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