Who would have imagined that technology and trash would have anything in common? Surprisingly, technology is beginning to play a big role in managing the millions of tons of trash Americans generate every year.
Communities are faced with increasing government restrictions on the amount and type of wastes they generate, and are employing new, innovative ways to manage it. Many are employing radio frequency identification technology (RFID).
Transponders are currently attached to more than a million waste bins worldwide. As a trash receptacle is lifted into a collection truck, the transponder returns a unique code - which is sent to an onboard computer - allowing for instant identification of the trash container.
Edmond, Okla., has already distributed 18,000 RFID-equipped bins as part of a six-month evaluation. "We wanted to plan for the future," said Sam McNeiland, superintendent of the city's sanitation department. "It was cost-efficient to incorporate radio frequency technology into the specifications for the new bins so we won't have to retrofit them in the future."
Within two years, the city plans to equip all of its garbage trucks with mobile scales and on-board computer systems. This will allow the city to charge residents for collection based on garbage weight per household. Fully-automatic trucks will lift each plastic bin, identify its owner, weigh and empty the garbage, and later upload the information to a computer.
The system will also help the city save money through more efficient collection routes and reduced worker injury, because employees will no longer have to leave the truck.
The towns of Trumbull, Easton and Monroe, Conn., are using RFID technology to track the identities and weights of collection trucks. With the automated system, the towns have been able to open transfer stations 24 hours a day
In California, Assembly Bill 939 mandates that by this year, municipalities must divert 25 percent of waste from landfills, and 50 percent by the year 2000. Santee, a city near San Diego, has developed an RFID-based information system to help meet the mandate.
Residents received color-coded waste carts, each fitted with a transponder, for separating household trash, yard waste and recyclables. Each cart is read by an electronic reader mounted on the collection truck. As each cart is lifted and dumped, the transponder identifies the resident and type of waste being disposed. This information is then sent real-time to a small computer on the truck, which is in turn downloaded to a central computer at the end of each route.
"We work to keep costs down while residents work to keep recyclables out of the waste stream," said Kevin Kelly, president of Mission Recycling & Disposal.
Al McCooey, a waste management specialist for Texas Instruments, believes the use of RFID technology will be even more important in the future, as communities strive to meet demanding federal and state mandates. Cities will soon be subjected to stiff financial penalties for not meeting the mandated requirements. "I think this technology is going to be an absolute requirement as solutions are developed to meet mandates. You must have a positive means of identification which serves as the basis for electronic financial transactions once residential customers begin to be charged for the volume or weight of trash they produce."
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