October 1, 2006 — Electrical engineers have developed a system that identifies a recycling bin by its household, using Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID) chips embedded in the bins. Bins are scanned and weighed right at the curb, and the system tallies credits for households that are above average for recycling, issuing "recycle dollars" that can be used at participating businesses for discounts.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Buying recycled products is all the rage, but do you recycle? The average person uses 650 pounds of paper each year. Americans go through 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour! Those bottles and other recyclables are filling up our landfills. Now a new garbage bin can actually save the environment and make you some money.
It's a dirty job, but in Jill Mascaro's home, her kids fight over who's going to be responsible for the trash! "The kids and I have a running marathon every month as to how much we can actually scrounge up in the house in recyclables," she says.
The Mascaros aren't only saving the environment, they're making money with the Smart Cart, a high-tech trash can created by engineers that collects all your recyclables.
Its secret? A chip embedded in the plastic.
"We've turned an injection-molded piece of plastic into a smart, traceable piece of plastic," says JoAnne Perkins, general manager of Cascade Engineering in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Sensors in the garbage truck read the chip. Forks outfitted with scales weigh what's inside. The Smart Cart automatically records the information in computers.
Fred Keller, CEO of Cascade Engineering, says, "The householder gets rewarded for the amount of recyclables that they have just put into the truck."
Each week you can go on-line, find out how much you've recycled and collect Recycle Bank Dollars. You can get coupons for anything from groceries, gas, clothes, Starbucks, travel agencies ... You name it, they got it!
Philadelphia went from one of the nation's worst recycling rates -- 6 percent to an incredible 90 percent with recycle bank!
"Not only has it taken the chore out, it's made it fun," Keller says. The creators of this concept at Cascade Engineering have a new word for this business -- "Econology" – because it's good for the environment and good for business.
It's a win all around! Cities save money on trash hauling. Waste management companies track recycling operations to reduce landfill disposal and optimize truck usage. Households get discounts, and businesses get foot traffic without paying for advertising. Cascade Engineering is responsible for making the bins, but if you want the smart cart to come to your area, call your city leaders.
Jill and her family earned $15 last month, $21 this month, and now they're ready to go shopping!
BACKGROUND: A Philadelphia company has teamed up with a manufacturer of plastic trash carts to develop a system that identifies a recycle bin by its household. Each bin is embedded with a "smart waste" tag -- a combination computer chip and bar code reader --so the bins can be scanned and weighed right at the curb. Once scanned, the data is recorded on a computer and linked to that particular household. The system tallies credits for households that are above average for recycling, and issues "recycle dollars" that can be used at participating businesses for discounts.
THE RESULTS: RecycleBank in Philadelphia has seen recycling participation rise to 90 percent of the 2,500 residents who subscribed to the pilot program, up from less than 25 percent of those households when the program began. Not only did more homes participate, but they recycled more of their trash. The average recycling rate rose from less than 5 percent to more than 50 percent.
HOW RFID TAGS WORK: Location tracking technology has many different components, including geographic information systems, the global positioning system, wireless local area networks and the infrastructure that has evolved around cellular phones. In a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system, small microchips are implanted into consumer goods, cattle, vehicles and other objects to track their movements. RFID tags are passive and only transmit data if prompted by a reader. The reader transmits radio waves that activate the tag, which then transmits information via a pre-set radio frequency. Currently, location tracking systems are used to streamline corporate supply chains, monitor assets and prevent inventory loss. But one day RFID tags may replace traditional bar codes in stores.
WHAT ARE MEMS: Microelectro-mechanical systems (MEMs) integrate electronic and moving parts onto a microscopic silicon chip, making them ideal for new sensor technology. The term MEMS was coined in the 1980s. A MEMS device is usually only a few micrometers wide; for comparison, a human hair is 50 micrometers wide. Among other everyday applications, MEMS-based sensors are used in cars to detect the sudden motion of a collision and trigger release of the airbag. They are also found in ink-jet printers, blood pressure monitors, and projection display systems.