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Trash Talk

Garbage is a growing problem in cities and towns across the globe. Now, RFID is helping communities better manage waste collection, encourage recycling and monitor the disposal of industrial and hazardous materials.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Nov 07, 2011—Hattiesburg, the fourth largest city in Mississippi, had a serious problem with garbage. The city did not provide trash receptacles, so some of its 50,000 residents placed garbage bags on curbs, where wild animals frequently rifled through them and scattered debris in the streets. Sanitation workers were often injured by sharp objects or passing vehicles, or from heaving the garbage into the trucks, which led to numerous Workers' Compensation claims. And many times, the trash went uncollected altogether.

"We were having lots of calls from residents complaining that their trash wasn't being picked up, or that their cans were damaged or missing," says Russell Davis, Hattiesburg's director of public services. "We wanted to know what garbage was being picked up and when. We had drivers returning from their routes by 11 a.m., saying they were done. We knew that couldn't have been right."

When an RFID-tagged container is tipped into a truck equipped with an RFID reader, the reader captures the tag's identification number, associating garbage or recyclables with a householder's account. (Photo: Recyclebank)

For nearly 10 years, the city had considered automating the manual collection system, but was deterred by the high cost. That changed when city officials learned about the benefits of RFID-based systems. In August 2010, the city's sanitation department converted to a $3.5 million automated garbage-collection system, from RFID systems integrator Concept2 Solutions. The RFID solution includes more than 22,000 RFID-tagged collection carts from Otto Environmental Systems—each household receives a green can for household garbage and a brown one for yard trash—and 12 new trucks equipped with RFID readers, from Motorola, and mechanical arms that lift and empty the carts.

Each time a cart is tipped into the truck, the reader captures the tag's identification number, and software onboard the vehicle associates it with the GPS coordinates of the truck's location, as well as the date and time. When the driver completes the route and returns to the garage, this record is automatically downloaded to the waste agency's back-end software via Wi-Fi.
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