RFID boosts residential recycling in South Carolina county

Intermec and Sonrai Systems track RFID tags on home recycling carts

RFID tags attached to residential recycling carts have helped one South Carolina county more than double the pounds of plastics, paper and glass being recycled there.

The RFID tags, which cost less than $1 for each 96-gallon residential recycling cart, are recorded by an RFID reader inside the recycling trucks, which transmit the data wirelessly to servers to help officials in Charleston County, S.C., track which homes have been recycling.

After a pilot project using RFID with 5,000 homes began in January, county officials tracked which homes had not put out a recycling cart for three months. Each of those residents then received a postcard urging them to join the program and recycle.

With the reminders and related measures, the county was able to boost recycling among the pilot group from an average of 250 pounds annually per household to 545 pounds, a 117% increase, officials said.

The RFID pilot will be expanded to another 5,000 homes in October and then to all 110,000 single family homes in the county in the next 12 to 18 months, said Don Ross, project manager for Kessler Consulting, which provides consulting on the project.

The RFID tags being used come from several manufacturers and are read by Intermec RFID readers aided with processing by Intermec CV-30 onboard computers in the trucks, said Tony Romano, vice president of Sonrai Systems, in an interview. Sonrai provides waste management systems nationally and runs the servers in Rosemont, Ill., which are used to the read the recycling data.

Romano estimated the cost of the RFID system to be $10,000 to $12,000 per truck, and said that all of Charleston County will eventually be serviced by up to 15 trucks. The return on investment for all costs in the RFID-based system is expected to be reached in four months, he added.

Romano said that boosting recycling rates is seen by local governments as a money saver and environmentally sound over using landfills to hold recyclable materials. The waste management industry is widely adopting larger recycling carts to replace smaller 22-gallon plastic recycling bins. With the carts, homeowners put all their recycling in one cart rather than having to sort it, which helps boost participation in recycling programs. "Simplifying recycling is what this is all about," Romano said.

The 96-gallon carts cost about $50 apiece, so the $1 price of the RFID tag is seen as an incremental cost. With the ability to target which homes are recycling with RFID, governments can make their recycling programs more productive, Ross added.

Ross said about 35% of homes in the county recycled before the pilot, but that level has been improved to more than 70% in some areas.

Intermec issued a statement from Hal Crawford, the county's collection department manager, saying the Intermec-Sonrai technology has given the county "a high level of data confidence" about who is taking part in recycling efforts.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com .

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