Road to Improvement

Features - Operations Focus

RFID technology can help haulers capture data to improve recycling performance and operational efficiency

August 7, 2013
Amelia Baker

TFC Recycling can target recycling education efforts in the communities it serves thanks to its Recycling Perks program, which uses RFID technology to capture data on routes.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) isn’t new technology, but it’s fairly new to the trash and recycling game. RFID tags wirelessly transfer data using passive technology. This means that the RFID tag containing the data in question does not transmit that information until it’s within signal range of a scanner unit that is able to capture that information from the tag.

Many times, this technology is used by shipping services providers, such as UPS or FedEx. Scanning a package in and out of locations allows consumers to check up conveniently on the status of a shipment with merchandise purchased from a retailer across the globe. Wal-Mart was integral to RFID adoption en masse, as the company guided the use of RFID throughout the supply chain for better logistical tracking and control.

The trash and recycling business started to adopt RFID technology about a decade ago primarily because waste haulers identified a gap in their operational structure and needed better information to be efficient and lean. For decades, refuse drivers manually counted carts serviced and documented service issues at the curb.

Getting Precise
With the installation of RFID tags on recycling carts and that of scanners on refuse vehicles, haulers can document precise information on the number of households on a given route, the number of service points or lifts in a day and the actual recycling set-out rate for various streets and neighborhoods they serve.

Given information of this depth, the waste industry can assign the best truck size per route, reduce missed collection points immediately and offer superb customer service to residents, pinpointing the actual time a collection was completed. Additionally, some RFID programs are able to electronically document contamination in the can, overflow or other common issues without having to manually interface with the cart or exit the cab.

In many parts of the country, waste disposal is expensive; often much more expensive than recycling, creating vested interest in capturing more recyclables from the waste stream. RFID technology has proven capable of targeting residents who aren’t recycling regularly, enabling service providers to customize marketing and education messages. This process is encapsulated in the services Recycling Perks offers.

RFID Benefits

TFC Recycling, Chesapeake, Va., created Recycling Perks after identifying an industry need that wasn’t being fulfilled in the marketplace. TFC Recycling carefully crafted a program built on the foundation of RFID that rewards residents for recycling. Recycling Perks was integrated into the curbside program in Chesapeake.

As data are captured for each collection point, they are filtered through a feed into the back end of the system to award points to residents who recycled that collection day. The program is designed to give residents a carrot—an incentive to encourage more recycling—in terms of both volume and frequency.

The rewards platform is robust; however, it’s only one part of the overall program that is supported by RFID technology. With the waste collection services industry in the mature stage of growth, RFID also supports efforts to minimize operational costs and to create higher margins on existing service contracts. The operational benefits lie in assets and overhead reduction that are adopted by route supervisors, mechanics and professional drivers.

RFID systems capture the positive activity of recycling and also document the GPS location of each collection point as well as the general truck location at any given time. With this technology at hand, route supervisors are able to catch missed cans immediately and reroute the driver before the customer service query comes in. Additionally, route supervisors are able to oversee the activity and routes of all drivers from any location. RFID eliminates the need to travel routes day in and day out, which affords a single supervisor the ability to manage a larger quantity of routes, drivers and service areas. These elements are immediately recognized as cost savings in any organization adopting RFID technology within its fleet.

In addition to aiding with supervision of operations, customer service becomes easier for municipal and commercial customers with the use of RFID technology. A service call requesting the status of a collection can be resolved easily without contacting the driver directly, providing instantaneous results for the customer and a safer environment for drivers. Residents who habitually set their carts out late can be identified and educated based on the service time stamping that the scanners provide. This helps reduce missed-service claims and driver time needed to address them. These components contribute to creating a lean and efficient workforce.

Targeting the Message

Besides operational wins and incentivizing recycling, a mountain of data is collected daily. The Recycling Perks program helps to analyze the collected data, target hot spots within the city or neighborhood, develop marketing campaigns and execute programs that enhance recycling activity within the target area.

It is commonplace to implement educational programs in a broad-brush approach addressing every resident in the city with the same general messaging. Through the use of RFID, however, data from a targeted neighborhood can be analyzed and specialized campaigns can be crafted that speak directly to the residents living in that particular location.

The goal of targeted marketing is to create inclusive programming that highlights the value of recycling for the selected residents. After programs are executed, they are evaluated for effectiveness by continuing to measure recycling set-out rates using RFID technology. Following targeted campaigns, neighborhoods demonstrating lower-than-average trends in recycling set out have experienced a 10 percent set-out rate increase on average. Some campaigns have seen the set-out rate increase by nearly 100 percent.

Multiple Beneficiaries
Increases in recycling and engagement with the Recycling Perks program are translated easily to cost savings for a community by diverting waste and encouraging a cleaner, greener place to live.

The easy win for residents is the value of the discounts they see from recycling using the Recycling Perks rewards program—residents who recycle and reward themselves through the program save an average of $25 per month. These savings are relevant to the resident but also act as a tool for municipalities to soften the burden of residential waste removal service fees.

It’s not only residents and haulers who benefit from curbside recycling programs that use RFID technology. Local businesses are able to participate in the online rewards program, promoting their products and services to residents within their hometowns. On top of that, the data collected through RFID tags and scanners allow Recycling Perks the opportunity to engage businesses in events and campaigns that speak directly to the local residents immediately surrounding their bakeries, coffee shops or retail stores. The economic development platform of Recycling Perks is designed to keep local dollars within the borders of the city.

RFID technology was integrated into recycling services for TFC Recycling to reward residents for recycling; but, the benefits of the technology have been evident in many additional areas. Direct savings in operational supervision, enhanced customer service support, monthly savings for residents, advertising and promotional opportunities for locally owned businesses, custom tailored marketing programs and increased recycling tonnage diverted from landfills are all regular and expected results of a rewards program built with RFID technology as the foundation.

The author is marketing project manager for Chesapeake, Va.-based TFC Recycling and Recycle Perks.