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.

Related articles
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Recycling Programs Losing Money, But Residents Are Still Paying
Seattle Considers Reduced Garbage Collection For More Recycling

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Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.
Trey Granger

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  1. I think this idea could be good to implement in commerces and industries also.

    Do you have a list of manufacturers of these devices? I’m particularly interested in the one that can weigh the content of the bin. How much cost each RFID device?

    thanks in advance!

  2. Interesting idea, but wouldn’t it be substantially cheaper to have the recycling driver log which bins never make it to the street? Seems to me that a clipboard and pencil would do the trick.

  3. I believe every city in the US should have a a recycling program that fine household for not recycling. Cities should not charge customers to recycle. Having recycling containers available to customers to use would reduce trash.

  4. Seriously? Enforced recycling? What if you just don’t create that much waste? Our family doesn’t buy sodas, we don’t have tons of paper waste, in fact, even our cleaners come in concentrated form, so the spray bottles last forever. I reuse all of our glass jars, etc for personal use. I’d say the majority of our waste is vegetables or egg shells or other biodegradable things that we just throw in to compost. If your household is conscious about being eco-friendly, then sometimes using the city’s recycling program just isn’t necessary. Should we really be fining people for not being wasteful?

  5. To the folks who are arguing against these measures, I would encourage you to separate out ALL of your paper, plastic bag, and containers for just one week, and also separate out your compostables. You will quickly learn just how MUCH waste you DO create in just one week.

    @Jack: You are not doing the environment a favor by burning your garbage. It would be better for the environment if you WOULD send it to the dump vs. incinerating it and releasing chemicals into the air.

  6. I’ve been recycling in Los Angeles for years, and here is the problem with trying to ‘police’ the issues of
    bins and when and how they are used. There are always people going through my bins before the trucks arrive. Some of these people just use my regular garbage bin to swap out and sort what they want and don’t want. I have no control over what goes on with my bins from the time I take them out of the garage to the steet and the time that the trucks come to collect the contents unless I sit out there and guard them.
    I resent having to pay for a service that will fine me heavily if my bins aren’t perfect.
    Also, word is that the Los Angeles recycling trucks have been spotted dumping recycle materials at regular landfills.
    It’s too much to fine people who are doing their best.

  7. How can you fine people for not using their bins?
    What if homeowners go out of town for an extended period of time and there is little or no waste at the location? Are we to be required by our government to write for special waiver to not take out the trash?
    Please. Serious. It’s too much.

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