How RFID Technology is Evolving in the Waste and Recycling Industry

According to industry officials, RFID technology is being used more and more as a way to track containers and verify service.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology systems were initially touted as the go-to for pay-as-you-throw waste and recycling collection programs. Asset tags were attached to waste and recycling containers and data was collected when it was full, alerting haulers to deploy a vehicle to empty it.

But according to industry officials, RFID technology is being used more and more as a way to track containers and verify service.

“RFID is a great inventory tool. It also provides us with service verification and productivity data,” says Joshua Connell, managing partner of Morton Grove, Ill.-based Lakeshore Recycling Systems. “It’s my opinion that it may be used more to verify service and track inventory. The consumer will have to drive the use more in regards to pay-as-you-throw programs.”

Currently, RFID technology aids the waste and recycling industry in the tracking, work order management and repairs of waste containers, in addition to service verification and route management of waste vehicles, according to Jim Pickett, vice president of sales for Toter LLC, based in Statesville, N.C.

He says there has been recent growth in the use of RFID tags to both manage carts as municipal assets and track collection service in real time. Recycling carts are commonly RFID tagged to monitor participation levels by route, street and individual homes. RFID technology allows automated asset tracking (scanning) of real-time service verification from when the cart is delivered to a home and then throughout the complete life of the cart.

“The technology that gathers RFID cart collection data on routes also allows managers to monitor many aspects of route operations, including progress on the route, missed stops, driver performance, vehicle condition and safety-related situations,” he says. “These RFID capabilities help to track real-time data, which improves fleet productivity, safety and availability.”

Over the past year, the technology has evolved in adding new inputs to the vehicular system, such as on-board cameras and route driver inputs, according to Pickett. Reports from the hosted website also have been improved and expanded.

“I’m not sure if the technology has changed in the last year,” says Connell. “The biggest change has been our ability as a company to create internal processes to manage the technology and help our customers with the technology.”

Despite its growth, the technology still faces some challenges within the waste and recycling industry.

“Service providers sometimes have unusual needs that a given system may not completely meet. Customers’ IT staffs can assume that additional capabilities are logically a part of the program, even though they are not within the scope of the system,” says Pickett.

An example is the assumption that an RFID system’s software will automatically interface with dozens of different billing and customer service software packages already in use.

Besides the initial implementation, Connell says that the largest challenge has been in the billing process.

“The system works best when all residents receive and pay for services electronically,” he says. “I compare it to a toll way system in which customers would have a small prepaid balance and funds are deducted from their account when services are provided. If you have to mail paper invoices monthly and process payments by hand, the program doesn’t work well.”

Waste and recycling companies are seeing benefits in using RFID technology, including its ease of use.

“With our two communities that are using the technology, the biggest benefit has been the ease of use. Residents no longer have to purchase stickers and tag their waste and recycling carts,” says Connell.

According to Pickett, many private haulers provide RFID data collection in order to win recycling collection contracts.

“Cities and counties rely on RFID data to meet asset tracking requirements and evaluate which customers are participating in recycling diversion programs that save them on disposal fees,” he says.

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