In Illinois, RFID Makes It Easier for Residents to Pay as They Throw

By Claire Swedberg

Lakeshore Recycling Systems is using EPC Gen 2 tags and readers to track usage of the waste-collection services it provides to the cities of Wheaton and Highland Park.

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The Illinois city of Wheaton is the latest municipality to adopt an RFID-based waste-tracking system from Lakeshore Recycling Systems (LRS). The city signed a five-year contract that encompasses collection of residential trash and recyclables and the tracking of each customer’s bin via an RFID tag attached to it.

LRS has been serving the greater Chicago area with waste removal and recycling for the past 17 years. The company began offering RFID in 2015 when it incorporated the technology in the pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) waste-disposal program in Highland Park, Ill. With PAYT, each home is charged according to how much waste is picked up in front of their home.

At the front of each LRS truck, an RFID reader is installed on the arm that raises the cart to the hopper.

“In PAYT communities, the benefit of convenience, along with easier billing is important to residents and municipalities,” says Bill Kenney, Lakeshore Recycling Systems’ municipal manager. “We felt that RFID technology would be a good fit for the city, since a large percentage of its residents were using a PAYT system for their services.”

Highland Park has offered the PAYT volume-based services since at least 1993, says Hayley Garard, assistant to Highland Park’s city manager.

The PAYT system, prior to RFID technology use, Garard explains, came with some inconvenience for residents. A resident needed to visit a local store to buy paper stickers that were placed on trash bins, estimating in advance how many they might need. When waste removal workers emptied a bin, they collected the sticker. The PAYT system thereby ensured residents paid only for the amount of waste they needed to have picked up, which encouraged them to keep their waste levels as low as possible. If they had fewer bins emptied, they needed to buy fewer stickers.

RFID allows users to forego the need to purchase stickers and attach one to a cart each time they put out that cart for collection. Traditional stickers will still be used for bulk items such as appliances, electronic or yard waste.

Highland Park adopted a Sustainable Strategic Plan in 2010 to make the community greener and more sustainable, according to Garard, and volume-based solid waste disposal is part of that effort. “We believe a volume-based service encourages residents to generate less solid waste, and the use of RFID is expected to increase the number of residents who use the service,” she says.

Hayley Garard, assistant to Highland Park’s city manager

With the LRS system, a passive EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tag is embedded in each trash or recyclables cart (Kenney declined to name the makes and models of RFID tags and readers his company uses). By using RFID, the paper stickers are no longer needed.

The unique ID number encoded to each RFID tag is linked to its size and type of waste – recyclable or trash–in Lakeshore Recycling Systems’ software residing on its own server. When a consumer acquires a cart, LRS inputs the cart’s ID along with that individual’s billing address.

At the front of each garbage truck, an RFID reader is installed on the arm that raises the cart to the hopper, so that when a cart’s contents is dumped into the hopper, the reader captures the cart’s tag ID number. At the end of the day, when the truck comes back to the waste-management facility, the reader uploads the captured tag data, via Wi-Fi, and the billing tally for each resident is updated accordingly. The reader also stores the time and date of each RFID tag read, to provide confirmation that the tip occurred at the appropriate time and therefore the data is accurate.

Kenney says LRS uses its own software to manage the data on its server, and link it directly to the billing system.

The RFID system currently provides LRS with a competitive edge. “The solid-waste industry is not short on strong haulers–large and small, and Chicago is no exception,” says Kenney. “You have to be able to offer strong value propositions in order to gain market share.” With RFID, he says, the company is able to offer municipalities, and by extension their residents, a better way to pay for waste and recycling service.

“There’s was no inherent benefit for us as a company to implement the RFID concept, other than it helps us track and manage our assets a bit more,” he says.

Lakeshore Recycling Systems’ Bill Kenney

Since the Highland Park system went live on Aug. 1, Garard indicates the city has had a smooth transition. “Residents seem very happy with the change thus far,” she says. Every resident has a cart with RFID technology, even if they are not using the volume-based service. “If a resident calls Lakeshore Recycling Systems, they can easily switch their service to volume-based and, depending on the amount of solid waste that they generate, they could save money.”

Kenney adds that “Highland Park is a well-respected and high-profile municipality in Chicagoland, so when it made the decision to partner with LRS as its hauler, word spread quickly to other municipalities in search of a better mouse trap–if you will.”

Wheaton, like Highland Park, has been using a sticker-based PAYT system, but starting Oct. 1, it will transition to Lakeshore Recycling Systems’ RFID-based bin-tracking service. The city has between 14,000 and 15,000 homes. “Our bin count is fluid, Kenney says. “We always bring in more than is forecasted as a cautionary measure.”