RFID & GPS for Waste Management

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Aug 22, 2012 @ 11:25 AM

Tags: Trimble, RFID, GPS, Waste Management

Locationing and Auto-Identification technologies are being used in a number of waste management activities - from using GPS for fleet management, to RFID-enabled recycling incentive programs, to contributing to several breakthroughs in smart packaging.

And, the innovation continues.  Just last week, Trimble Environmental Solutions announced cBin™, a new solution for managing remote recycling containers. According to the announcement, cBin allows hauling operations to save time and money by reducing fuel consumption, labor, and truck wear and tear incurred when they pick-up empty or partially full containers.

The cBin solution consists of a remote sensor that sends fill level and asset status information via wireless communications to a Web portal that can be accessed to manage container inventory and pickups. cBin sensors automatically measure container fill levels hourly and send updates to the cBin portal.

Trimble cBinPortal

The scBin Portal ummary screen provides an "at a glance" view of all containers in a community for rapid evaluation of container status.  Immediate updates are sent if fill levels exceed action levels.

While GPS technology has certainly been a difference-maker for fleet management, and now container monitoring, Challande – a Swiss waste management and material transportation company – chose to integrate RFID with GPS, setting them up for a greater return on their investment than if they just had GPS alone.

For 10 years, when Challande had a GPS system in place, they could see where their trucks were located and could then manually track down the various containers and waste bins they owned – a system that got the job done, but not one that was entirely efficient. Challande has hundreds of pieces of equipment they need to monitor. By attaching RFID tags to trailers, trucks, and cargo this year, they have been able to gain a more comprehensive view of the many moving parts of their company. The difference from using GPS alone?  Now the exact location and ID number of every bin and truck Challande owns is automatically aggregated and sent to their existing management software.

For Challande, the return on their investment is coming from all directions. Their risk of misplacing bins and other property is now practically non-existent. The time their employees used to spend tracking down bins is no longer an expense they have to account for. They don’t have to spend time or money implementing new management software, because they can integrate the new RFID tags with their existing system. Challande can even minimize delays in transportation and delivery by looking at an item’s distance from its destination and making adjustments on the fly.

Challande, and many others, are already watching their RFID systems pay for themselves.  And, as highlighted in our Infographic – The Future of RFID, the convergence of RFID with technologies like GPS is helping companies better manage their assets and the myriad of moving pieces they are responsible for.

Over the next decade, the convergence of wireless technologies will be augmented by RFID systems and the integration of passive RFID as part of this platform will be driven by the potential to measure, report and monetize a growing number of transactions in the physical world.  In certain applications, it is hard to imagine a future where everyday physical objects won’t have "built-in" RFID.

Reducing Food Waste with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, May 03, 2012 @ 10:43 AM

Tags: RFID, Food & Beverage, Waste Management

Save FoodYou could feed a small country with the food you threw away! How many of you heard that growing up from your parents? Well, maybe they were onto something.

The cost of food these days makes it much more difficult for many to buy lunch at work when they have cold cuts, lettuce and tomatoes at home that will go bad if not used to make a sandwich. When going out to eat, we can justify the large portions by knowing we can take a doggie bag home, but half the time it gets forgotten in the restaurant or brought home and tossed in the trash after a few days.

South Korea may have found the next best thing; deterring people from wasting food. An RFID-based system charges people for the food they throw away.

As reported by Earth911.com, SK Telecom has developed bins that will weigh food that is thrown out. Using RFID, the bins will calculate a disposal fee based on the exact weight, which will then be debited from the person’s public transportation card or billed to a credit card.

It works in much the same way an RFID-enabled check out at a grocery store might work.  The person taps the bin where there is a reader waiting to read an RFID-enabled card. The lid opens, and the person can throw out their unwanted leftovers. The bin then weighs the food waste and informs the person of the subsequent fee.

According to a city government official, they expect their approach (which includes a home kitchen system) to help reduce 670 tons of food waste per day, cut the total amount of refuse by 20 percent by 2014, contributing to savings of 19.5 billion won (over $17M USD) per year.

Good idea, don't you think? Anything to help reduce waste of any kind is A OK in our book. I’d like to enforce a similar practice in my house. I wouldn’t necessarily charge my children, but having them think twice about over-serving themselves and throwing away food is a good thing.

Once the mindset is established, we might start to incorporate this thinking into our decision-making process. At a restaurant, we may decide that while it might be nice to order an appetizer, entre and dessert, while sampling the bread, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll be able to eat it all. We may make better decisions with waste reduction in mind, and skip the appetizer in favor of the bread.

This is a great example of RFID helping to Reduce. We’ve also seen how RFID can help Reuse. We’ll take it upon ourselves to find a successful use for RFID in Recycling and report back.

The 4 Rs - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Jan 24, 2012 @ 03:34 PM

Tags: Recycling, RFID, Waste Management, Smart Packaging

Sustainable PackagingThe next time you walk through the office, take a count of how many of those blue recycling bins you see until you reach your destination.  Chances are, you’ll be running out of fingers and toes before you reach the other side of the building.  The reason I point this out is because of the three proverbial legs of the recycling stool – reduce and reuse being the others – recycling is by far the most popular and easiest to implement.  This holds true across office environments and the shipping world.

While there have been some interesting developments on the reduction front in recent years with companies finding new and innovative ways to make packaging smaller, reusable packaging has been an area that has evaded progress; until now anyway. During Pack Expo Las Vegas 2011, several prominent consumer brands, including the likes of Coca-Cola, Ghirardelli Chocolate and Alpha Baking, presented case studies on the topic of reusable packaging.

There had been a lot of talk in the past about implementing RFID into packaging, yet the cost continued to be an inhibitor.  However, what is gaining steam in the shipping world is the use of RFID tags in reusable assets such as trays, crates and pallets where there is cost incentive for companies to find and reuse the shipping assets. 

In the case of Alpha Baking, they have introduced a test program where they have implemented RFID tags in 8% of their estimated 350,000 reusable trays.  The company uses RFID readers to obtain valuable data that helps improve shipping processes and prevent losses of these reusable assets. You may recall the blog we did on container tracking to prevent fraud. Now RFID brings about another benefit to the distribution market – enabling sustainability.

The key to making sustainable packaging successful is to have all three elements working effectively.  If one of those areas is neglected, it has a negative impact on the entire process.  One could easily make the case that reusable packaging is the most important of the three and yet perhaps the hardest to implement. RFID allows companies to track these important assets, saving them money and greatly reducing the number of units needed, and ultimately discarded. We all know that creating waste is counter to the philosophy of three Rs. Four Rs gets us even closer to the sustainability goal.

Cup o’ Joe to Go

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Oct 14, 2010 @ 11:26 AM

Tags: RFID, Retail, Waste Management

RFID and Coffee Drinkers Unite to Cut Waste and Time

Smugs RFID mugWhen you think about how many cups of coffee a week the average person buys at a Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks, that’s a lot of paper cups being thrown out. The majority of coffee consumers seem to opt out of splurging on the fancy mugs the Java houses sell, including yours truly. So, how else can we possibly cut down on that coffee to-go waste?  Unless they’re in Italy or another European country that takes its coffee breaks seriously, people are going to have a tough time staying put for their morning coffee in order to help the environment.

But maybe we won’t need to change our lifestyles to save the environment from zillions of plastic and paper cups.

Ever hear of Smugs? They are reusable Smart Mugs embedded with RFID chips. A Marquette University student, Chris Hallberg came up with the idea to let people use their own Smug, fill ‘er up and walk out of the coffee shop without paying. So, it saves waste and time. And who isn’t in a hurry when getting coffee on the go?

The Smugs use a high-frequency 13.56 MHz circular RFID tag with a Mifare chip designed to store ID numbers. The unique tags are connected to a Smuger’s account in the shop’s back-end database. The accounts are front-loaded by the customers with the amount they choose. An RFID reader is placed on the shop’s wall and also connected to the accounts in the database. When the customer leaves the shop, voila, the coffee is paid for.  

As if saving time and cutting down on waste weren’t enough, this innovative idea also lends itself to customized service – which we’ve seen before in this blog. Because a customer’s name and previous coffee orders are stored in the tag, a coffee shop employee can ask he should serve up a mocha latte, double espresso, non-fat as usual.

We understand that Hallberg has another invention in the works. Hopefully RFID is involved.

Cleaning Up Hazardous Materials with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Sep 14, 2010 @ 04:00 AM

Tags: RFID, Vehicle Tracking, Waste Management

Manhattan Project Site Transition to an Industrial Park Uses RFID for Waste Management

“Takedown of the West Wing at the K-25 Plant in Oak Ridge Is Complete.” That was the headline this past January in a United States Department of Energy (DOE) newsletter.

West WingThe DOE’s East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), originally the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant, was established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project. The ETTP site was designed to produce enriched uranium for nuclear weapons operations. Following World War II, the Plant was renamed the Oak Ridge K-25 Site. It was eventually shut down in 1987.

Most of the K-25 site's process facilities were constructed in the 1940s and 1950s. The waste that was generated at the time: construction material; process fluids; and auxiliary materials used in the gaseous diffusion process, are considered hazardous under today's standards. Most of the plating waste, waste solutions and trash contaminated with radioactivity was disposed of between 1975 and 1989. According to a story in RFID Journal, the K-25 plant was estimated to have generated more than 300,000 cubic yards of waste materials for packaging, transportation and disposal.  

The DOE’s long-term goal for ETTP is to convert the site into a commercial industrial park. The site is undergoing environmental cleanup conducted by DOE’s environmental management contractor, Bechtel Jacobs Company. The decontamination and decommissioning of the seven square-mile section of the Oak Ridge Reservation as well as the building complex, will pave the way for its redevelopment and reuse.

So where does RFID come in? Every shipment resulting from the clean-up requires information regarding the waste, the trucks carrying it and the inspection results. More information must also be captured once the waste is received at the disposal facility.

Bechtel Jacobs decided to implement a solution using EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tags and a combination of fixed RFID readers and RFID handheld computers. An RFID tag is attached to each truck in the fleet containing its identification data. Shipping data is then written to the vehicle's RFID tag. What used to take several manually completed forms is now a process that employs reusable passive RFID tags. The RFID Journal story on this deployment also reported that one tag will be encoded with information up to eight times a day and will be read between 40 and 50 times during that same time period.

Not only does the RFID system reduce the paperwork associated with each shipment, it makes the overall operation more efficient and helps the DOE develop best practices that can be used for similar projects in the future.

No Greenwashing Here: How RFID Helps the Environment (Part 3)

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Aug 02, 2010 @ 12:26 PM

Tags: Waste Management, RFID Recycling Programs, Smart Packaging

RFIDS for Recycling Incentive Programs, Waste Hauling Automation and Smart Packaging

A few recycling facts:

  • Enough energy is saved by recycling one aluminum can to run a TV set for three hours.
  • Recycling just one out of every ten plastic bottles would keep 200 million pounds of plastic out of landfills each year.
  • The average American uses 650 pounds of paper during the course of one year. 100 million tons of wood could be saved each year if all used paper was recycled.
  • A steel mill that uses recycled scrap reduces related water pollution, air pollution, and mining wastes by at least 70 percent.
(source: epa.gov)

Decreasing the amount of waste that households and businesses produce and discard has become a worldwide focus in order to reduce polution and conserve our Earth's resources for future generations.  To achieve this, recycling, resource conservation and pollution reduction programs of all kinds are being implemented across the globe. Over the last several years, it has become increasingly clear that the use of RFID technology can help streamline and encourage participation in these programs.  Here are a few examples how:

Recycling Incentive Programs

Recycling incentive programs embed RFID tags into curbside recycling bins at residences in order to identify bin ownership.  RFID readers located on trash hauling trucks combine data from the RFID tags with the bin weight in order to issue credits to participants based on the amount of recyclable material they contribute.  Program participants can then cash in their credits at national retailers or local businesses.

RecycleBankWith offices in New York and Philadelphia, RecycleBank, is a leader in the recycling rewards program market. RecycleBank partners with cities and waste haulers to reward households for recycling. Households earn RecycleBank Points that can be used to shop at over 1,500 local and national businesses.  As of this post, RecycleBank claims it is operating in more than 300 communities across 26 states and the United Kingdom.  Check out a cool video on RecycleBank’s website detailing their service.

R4RSimilarly, with a mission of making community curb-side recycling a benefit for all, Michigan-based Rewards for Recycling encourages recycling in communities through reward-based partnerships with municipalities, residents, area businesses, and waste haulers.  They’ve got videos on their site too, including The Story of Stuff, an amazing video created by Annie Leonard to promote a more sustainable and just world.  

Waste Management Process Improvement

With significant improvements in performance over the last several years, UHF RFID tags and readers have matured to the point where they have become a dominant technology in the waste management market, providing a high-performance alternative HF RFID which has been used for early market solutions.  The combination of UHF RFID tags and ruggedized UHF RFID readers not only enables service offerings like recycling incentive programs, but provides an opportunty to improve many existing manual processes.  By RFID-enabling hauling vehicles and bins, waste management companies can automate customer billing data entry and track missing or stolen containers.  Integration with complementary technologies like GPS and telematics systems can also improve route planning and vehicle efficiency monitoring.

Smart Packaging

Innovations in smart packaging are also being used to help reduce waste.  In addition to adding safety mechanisms such as tamper-proofing and providing the ability to measure the freshness of produce, information from RFID and sensor enabled smart packaging can be used by to help sort packaging materials in waste streams.

These are just a few examples of the numerous applications where RFID is making a positive impact on the environment.  We expect to explore more during our 100 uses of RFID campaign.  In the meantime, we would love for you to share other RFID-enabled recycling applications that you know about with us.

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