I’m not a tax inspector or a traffic warden. It’s worse than that – I work in the waste collection industry. Admit that, even in polite circles, and you might as well add “I’ll get my coat”. It seems that everyone has an opinion on the role of technology in waste collection, usually underpinned by the suspicion that a new tax is just around the corner.
RFID (the ‘chip in the bin’) seems in danger of being blighted by its association with ‘pay by weight’. With householders now on the lookout for any signs of a technology which might be a Trojan horse for variable charging it would perhaps be a brave local authority who publicly announced that not only were they putting chips in bins, but were also going to read the tags and weigh the bins at point of collection.
This is a shame because bin tags are an established technology which can empower local authorities and their contractors to improve services and reduce costs. Cutting out recalls for missed bins (and the enormous administrative effort that it causes) is one quantifiable benefit, but precise household-level data and automated auditing functions are all part of a picture of increased efficiency and faster response. The waste industry has historically been slow to adopt technology solutions, but smart adoption of RFID could make a big contribution to improving the relationship between householder and Council and ease the way for future changes such as variable charging.
Consumers are accustomed to suppliers keeping them up to date with service information via email and the web. My water, electricity and gas suppliers all send me information about my service electronically – why shouldn’t waste collectors do the same? “Thank you Mrs Smith, this month you recycled 44% of your waste and as a result the end of the world has been postponed by 28 seconds.” OK, that still needs a bit of work, but it demonstrates the level of information that can be made available, both internally within the local authority and more widely to consumers of the service.
The technology and equipment required to do this already exists, and much of it is already in place in a number of Councils. The challenge is for local authorities to openly embrace RFID and weighing and prove to householders that it can be about much more than pay by weight. The technology can be used to identify households recycling successfully and deliver targeted assistance to those who are not. The result can be a much stronger relationship with householders; a win-win where householders get improved service, councils reduce operating costs and recycling rates increase.
Then again, perhaps they’ll just be used to charge us more for waste collection.