RFID Bins: The New Recycling Police

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The newest trend in curbside recycling is the use of Radio-frequency identification (RFID), a tiny computer chip in the recycling bin that can do everything from weighing the contents inside to tracking which bins are used on a regular basis.

RFID bins (not pictured) allow cities to monitor the amount of waste that is recycled per household. Photo: Flickr/avlxyz

Cities currently utilizing this technology include Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

But some cities are using RFID tags to penalize those who don’t recycle. Earlier this summer, Laurel, Md. began using RFID bins to enforce $25-100 fines for houses not using their bins. All bins are linked to an address, and the city requires recycling participation.

Last week, Cleveland announced it is spending $2.5 million on tagged bins, and homes where a cart hasn’t been out for several weeks will be subject to a trash audit and potential $100 fines.

In both cases, the mandated recycling is designed to save money on garbage disposal, as cities pay per ton to dump garbage but can earn money for recyclables. Many cities have also switched to single-stream recycling, which allows residents to put all recyclables in one bin and minimize the amount of sorting.

The city of San Francisco passed a law requiring both recycling and composting from all residents and provides three different bins and fines for those who don’t participate. This law was passed even though San Francisco holds the nation’s largest recycling rate at 72 percent.

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