UK and US Garbage Collection Going High-tech

Predictably, Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford has set out to control municipal expenses by eliminating jobs and lowering incomes through privatization. When collection was originally contracted out in Etobicoke, the number of staff was reportedly cut in half. In England, some jurisdictions are taking a more sophisticated, high-tech approach using radio receivers to make their garbage collection more efficient.

The heart of the system is a small RFID (radio frequency identification) tag embedded in each trash bin. Garbage collection trucks are equipped with an antenna and reader device that records information from each bin each time it is emptied. “Data collected from the tags, which can be linked with a time stamp, lets operators monitor sorting quality, track the number of times a container is set out for collection and track the weight of its contents.” How does this help? It provides immediate information on the efficiency of garbage collection, measuring waste and recycling levels by neighbourhood, that integrates with operational systems such as scheduling.

Outside the UK, the technology is being carried one step further to provide an incentive for residents to improve their recycling and waste management. Since trucks have a scale installed, the system can record the weight of recycling by location and then households are eligible for a rebate based on their monthly weight of recycled materials. In Philadelphia PA, high volume recyclers receive a reward voucher redeemable at more than 300 retailers. The city went from a recycling rate of just 6% to 90% after introducing the RFID reward system. Cleveland, Ohio is spending $2.5 million for 50,000 RFID enabled garbage bins and readers for the collection trucks. It expects the plan to be profitable by increasing revenues from recyclables. [Source: IDIE News]

Garbage collection in Innisfil, and other County municipalities, is managed by Simcoe County and is contracted out to private firms. The County’s 2011 draft budget for Waste Management was set at $42.8 million, just over 10% of the total $408.1 million budget. I noted in an earlier article [A Look at Innisfil’s Tax Pie] that the County portion of local taxes is about 28% of the residential bill.

The County recently prepared a Zero Waste Strategy. A Draft Report released in June 2010 noted that the County processes 115,000 tonnes of residential waste (not including 12,000 tonnes of IC&I waste). That is equivalent to 392 kg. per person per year. The County’s residential diversion rate is 55%. The strategy calls for, among other things, restrictions on the collection of garbage and a larger recycling capacity.

RFID technology raises the interesting question if Innisfil and other County municipalities could improve their recycling rate, reduce waste management costs and also boost local commerce through a reward system involving local merchants.