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Michigan Households Get RFID-enabled Rewards for Recycling

An RFID-based incentives system uses EPC Gen 2 tags attached to collection bins, in order to track participation and give out prizes and discounts.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Unlike similar programs, such as RecycleBank (see RFID Helps Reward Consumers for Recycling), Rewards for Recycling does not base its rewards on the quantity of items placed in a recycling bin—rather, its incentives are based on frequency. Households that put their bins out every week earn higher rewards than those who do not. However, Garman says, even households that never recycle receive some small incentives—perhaps just a $1 or $2 discount coupon for a local business—as a means of enticing them to receive greater discounts by recycling.

Rewards for Recycling targets communities that have historically had very low recycling rates—below the already-low national average of around 25 or 30 percent. According to Garman, the program's efforts are working. "The minimum we've seen is a doubling of the recycling rates," he says. In some places, such as Davidson Township, the rate rose from 18 percent to well over 50 percent after the program was introduced. "The goal is to get everyone who doesn't recycle to start doing it. Right now, it's actually cheaper for these communities to dump everything in the landfill, because there is plenty of space and the commodity prices for recycling are low. But that will change, and when it does, the community will already be in the habit of recycling."

Al Gatt, Universal Tracking's president, says installing and optimizing the RFID readers inside the 14 collection trucks currently involved in the program required some custom engineering—specifically, for the reader antennas. "We had to engineer special [antenna] brackets and bolt them to the outside of the vehicle," he says, "and point the antennas out to the curb. We probably get about 30 feet of read range, consistently."

Initially, the drivers were given handheld RFID interrogators and asked to use them to read the tags attached to the bins. But this solution didn't work, Gatt says. "The handhelds didn't hold up in that environment. The weather here is not an easy thing to deal with—especially in the winter."

Using a GPS receiver as part of the solution, Gatt says, not only enables the system to easily associate each bin with a household, it also provides a means by which local communities will be able to track their fleets of recycling trucks in real time, though a cellular communication module built into each touch-screen computer. "We are going to integrate this with a routing solution that will direct the drivers on the route," he states, while also letting city administrators know where the trucks are, and how fast they are moving.

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