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RFID Tracks Recycling Progress in Charleston County

By installing Sonrai Systems' UHF RFID system on its new single-stream recycling carts, as well as on its trucks, the county can now measure the growth of recycling.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 24, 2011As Charleston County, S.C., shifted its recycling program from a dual- to single-stream system (with all recyclables being deposited into a single large container, rather than separated into two smaller ones), the county employed a radio frequency identification system to measure that shift's success in increasing recycling participation. RFID is also enabling the county to target those homes not participating in the program, by providing them with educational materials.

Beginning in January of this year, passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID readers were mounted on every refuse-collection truck, and an RFID tag was placed on each new single-stream recycling cart. The tags are read as the carts are emptied into the county's trucks, enabling the county to gather data regarding the number of residents complying with the recycling program, and indicating which households are not doing so.

RFID readers were mounted on every refuse-collection truck.

In addition, the system will allow Charleston County to track its trucks' activities in near-real time. This information will enable managers to determine when problem (such as a delayed truck) arise, and to then respond accordingly, says Don Ross, Charleston County's project manager and a solid-waste consultant specializing in collection and transfer operations at Kessler Consulting, Inc.

Waste-management programs, counties and municipalities benefit from a reduction in waste disposal, as well as an increase in recycling. For example, says Tony Romano, the VP of business development at RFID technology provider Sonrai Systems, the disposal of waste costs an agency between $20 and $200 per ton, while recycling costs nothing—or could potentially even bring in revenue.

Tony Romano
How to encourage residents to recycle can be a daunting task, however, since it's difficult to track who is or is not recycling, and thus who needs to be targeted to receive education explaining the benefits of recycling, and how to do so. Although waste-management companies or agencies can weigh the amount of waste or recycling that they pick up, they can not know from how many households the material came, or from which homes. Therefore, the recycling system—including the scheduling of trucks and the mailing of informational fliers—is based on assumptions made regarding who is or is not putting out materials for recycling.

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