Sue Magness used to drive up and down Cincinnati streets on garbage days, looking for signs of recycling activity and reporting green-bin use the old-fashioned way – one house at a time. This year, the
Cincinnati Office of Environmental Quality’s
recycling coordinator estimates close to $1 million in savings and an unmatched collection of recycling data have resulted from the city’s enhanced recycling program.
The enhancement includes radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags
that are integrated into the large, wheeled bins distributed to residents this year.
“This technology provides an effortless opportunity for residents to participate in the RecycleBank
rewards program,” says Magness. “It provides valuable information about the house count for operations management and billing accuracy; and provides participation data that is invaluable for recycling education and marketing research.”
RFID, an innovative technology also used in health care and consumer products industries, helps track bin use easily and accurately, Magness says. She notes that before the new bins and technology, about 40 percent of city dwellers recycled, a portion that had held steady for 20 years. Now, 72 percent of residents recycle, and the number continues to grow.
In the first quarter of 2011, Magness reports a 49 percent increase in tons of materials recycled compared to the same time period in 2010. “Increase in tons results in more jobs and numerous environmental benefits,” Magness says.
More recycling also means less trash, lower landfill fees and an increase in sales of recycled materials. All together, enhanced recycling has lowered city waste disposal costs by more than $930,000 as of August 2011.
In addition to hundreds of thousands of dollars in city budget savings, the enhanced recycling program has enabled the city to collect the largest data set of recycling behaviors in the Midwest, says Magness, whose position would be eliminated in the current city budget proposal up for a City Council vote this week.
“I believe we have an unprecedented opportunity and obligation to measure, analyze and share this information for a sustainable future,” Magness says.
By Elissa Yancey