RFID tags for waste bins

Households, small businesses and factories are mostly provided with the 240 liter wheelie bin and a garbage truck is sent to empty these bins on a regular basis. If one realises the costs involved in this simple scenario, then one can appreciate the needs for modern monitoring technology.

Do ALL these bins need to be serviced?

Wheelie bins


Municipalities and private companies charge to the order of R25 per bin lift.

The REL trucks lift about 1200 bins per day. That gives a “turnover” of R 30 000 per truck per day. One truck services about 6 000 bins per week, repeating the same set of 6 000 bins every week. The capital expense of a truck and its weekly set of bins is generally well over R3 million. Each truck can thus be regarded at least as a R3m business unit with annual turnover of over R7.5m. And at this point we must realise that the management of this business is in the hands of the driver and crew on the truck, out of sight to the supervisors in their offices.

The primary concern is to ensure that the nominal R25 flows to the municipality (or other service provider) for each and every bin lifted. A truck crew will service a bin if it carries the right logo or colour – they do not know if a particular bin was reported as stolen, or whether a service charge is still being paid for that bin. Since the crew is out of sight of their supervisors, it is tempting to take “incentives” to service a couple of extra bins. These “extra” bins can be purchased at hardware shops, but of course it is much more common to “borrow” them from further down the road because then the logo is correct and the truck crew are not alerted to a “business opportunity”.

The monitoring of unpaid bin services has been a worldwide issue for a long time and the standard solution, borrowed from Europe, is to equip each bin with an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tag, and to put RFID tag readers on the bin lifters on the truck. The truck then records the “registration number” of each bin every time it is serviced and this is compared to the database of ratepayers to see if someone is paying for those services.

green blockTwo relatively recent technologies, GPS and GSM/GPRS, have made it possible to develop loggers that tells us exactly where and when a particular crew is servicing how many bins (without even having RFID tags on the bins). For example, we could see that truck X has lifted 54 bins in Market Street on Monday, while the ratepayers database says we have 58 bins in that street. On this basis alone, it appears that RFID tags will not help us find extra income from Market Street.

However. We might also see that another truck Y lifts 23 bins in Market St. on Wednesday, and that truck X comes back does 18 bins there again on Friday. So, while we have ratepayers for 58 bin services, there were actually 95 bin services. Market Street is then clearly an area that should be producing 60% more income for the service provider, and the cost of visiting the ratepayers, installing RFID tags and updating the database of accounts can be justified. The LiftLogger on the truck will read those tags and give an accurate report of the service rendered to each ratepayer.