White Papers

The Future of RFID™ Tagging and Tracking e-Waste™

By Richard Boyovich, VP LoadMan™.

In this perspective, the proposal of this paper is to use radio frequency identification RFID™ e-Waste™ custom tag technology for the identification and tracking of e-Waste™ in the MSW stream. The propose is to identify e-Waste™ by product ID at point of municipal solid waste (MSW) collection from customer location.

In 2019 the USA generated over 9.9 million metric tons of e-Waste™ at a value of 57 billion US dollars in precious metals. This economic value of e-Waste™ is significant. Considering the overall recovery, only about 15% was sent to recycling facilities. Studies have shown, for each Apple I phone, Android etc., it takes roughly 200 lbs of raw materials to make one smart phone. Worldwide in 2019 there was 53.6 million metric tons of e-Waste™ generated. By 2030, it’s estimated the annual amount of worldwide e-Waste™ will be 74.7 million metric tons.

The purpose of this innovative approach; compared to the proposed technology by Department of Energy* is to identify e-Waste™ in waste containers during normal waste management collections. Listed below are identification technology methods to determine presence, identity, quantity, and type of e-Waste™ as identified by the DOE – ARPA-E*.

Electromagnetic imaging & spectroscopic methods.

Near infrared spectroscopy (NIR) used in process plastic waste.

Millimeter wave scanner technology used for scanning passengers in airports.

Terahertz wave scanner, nonionizing used in material characterization.

Soft X-ray lionizing used of produce images of very small objects in airport baggage scanners.

Z backscatter low dose ionizing used in cargo scanners.

Radiofrequency conducting material detection.

Laser induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS).

Electric Eye relying on artificial intelligence (AI) for machine deep learning.

Ultrasound vision waves used of testing of materials.

Chemical markets and digital watermarks.

Data fusion techniques combining two or more inspection methodologies.

The issues with above proposed techniques effect adapting sizing for vehicles and safety with some types of technologies, not to mention the associated cost and maintenance issues. I believe the above technologies would require certified technicians, which would also require a predetermined calibration cycle. This alone would be very costly to implement and could prove to be a logistical nightmare. Refuse collection vehicles take a daily beating while on their routes. Currently, a refuse front loader can cost upwards of 400,000 dollars with a life cycle of approximately 10 to 12 years. Refuse vehicles are put through very tough conditions each day, considering the constant vibration and obstacles encountered such as curbs, potholes, and speed bumps.

Another major issue is, during vehicle dumping cycle of said customer MSW, there is only approximately one to three seconds to scan containers for e-Waste™ before dumping cycle has ended. Another possible issue, customers often bag and double bag MSW waste. Typically, households initially dispose waste into kitchen containers that usually have a white plastic liner bag. Customers often then re-dump into larger outside container that often have a black plastic liner bag. As a result, most scanner techniques would not prove effective.

In 1994, the FDA imposed new rules on food labeling. Processed packaged foods, canned and bottled goods were required to label Daily Values and Ingredients with Nutrition Facts. At the time there was considerable pushback on the requirement. I remember a number of talk radio and news outlets rallied against this requirement, stating it would cause price increases without benefit to consumers.

This proposal would require all manufactures of electronics and batteries to embed custom signature RFID™ e-Waste™ specific tags technology into some part of the component during product-build. For most, RFID™ tag cost would typically be less than a dollar, therefore cost for tags would be minimal.

This process would require some changes in product-build to implement technique, again once made law and enforced the overall benefits would be considerable to both consumers and the environment. RFID™ e-Tag proposal would possibly take a few years to implement, but once completed would provide benefit to both educating consumers and drastically reduce e-Waste™ going into landfills.

The cost to implement RFID™ readers connected to in-cab data collection with cloud-based real time software, is cost effective. This technology would not require constant maintenance. Any maintenance could be provided by non-certified technicians. Cloud-based software with assist tracking for individual customers, coupled with seamless data would be available via the Cloud through AIP. AIP credentials would have a high level of access, again based on credentials, while also allowing waste haulers access. In regards to customers, a customer User ID could be placed on the Cloud, they would enter their own password to access e-Waste™ Alerts. Example: When a customer has been identified as discarding e-Waste™; this would be collected without driver interaction as a data point. Because each individual electronic and or battery would have their specific RFID™ tags signature, the data point would autonomously identify the specific e-Product, and this would be sent to a cloud-based software. Customers would be sent an Alert stating specifically what e-Product they discarded into MSW stream. It could work like a “three-strikes-you’re-out” program. Naturally there would be a charge for this feature, because waste haulers would be responsible to remove all e-Waste™ from the MSW stream.

Currently, LoadMan™ provides RFID™ technology for customers using our software. There are a number of RFID™ providers for the waste management industry. RFID™ technology systems comprise of three components: RFID™ tags, “in this case e-Tags”, RFID™ readers and operational Cloud software. Each RFID™ has a built-in chip identifier which is programmable and stores data. There would be different presentations of e-Tags, which would be specific to e-component as an identifier. E-Tag technologies are contactless and can be read and written thousands of times by electromagnetic signals. This is important, because once e-Tags are imbedded into specific electronics or batteries, these would be written and recorded during product phase to specific e-Product manufacture and provide date on destination for point of sales.

Additionally, LoadMan™ employs RFID™ technology related to waste management to insure correct identification of customer containers and associated service type, weights, commodity code, and time of collection all by customer ID.

In this perspective, the proposal of this paper is to use radio frequency identification (RFID™) technology for hazardous waste management and tracking. The purpose of this innovative approach, compared with other works which have employed the same technology to the waste disposal process, is to focus on the certification that the hazardous waste will be delivered to the right destination site and that no inappropriate disposal will occur in the transportation stage. The RFID™ technology-based system presents three components: tags, readers, and operational software. The tag contains an RFID™ chip inside which stores data. There are different presentations of tags to offer the best match for each kind of material to be tagged. It is contactless and can be read and written thousands of times by means of electromagnetic signals conveniently modulated and coded by the readers. In fact, the readers are not only ‘readers’ since they can both read and write data on the chips, as long as they respect some technical parameters and limitations such as signal strength, chip memory size, and security requirements to protect them against unauthorized data access. Typical reader presentations are pad (tabletop), gate/tunnel (aisle), and handheld. Finally, there is the operational software in charge of controlling all the system components and the data flow processing, using communication modules that employ specific protocols. RFID™ technology is a powerful tool and can change the way of managing business and supply chains. A great advantage of this proposal compared with the traditional barcode technology (in which data can be read, but not updated) is that it allows simultaneous and secure reading/writing operations, which improves the whole process operational performance. Additionally, the reading/writing operations can be made remotely and is contactless in nonmetallic materials such as plastics, wood, and glass as well as in metallic materials, although, in this case, special tags should be used. Therefore, the human operators remain as far as possible from the direct contact/proximity to the hazardous waste, preventing contamination and reducing the risk of accidents.

Some RFID™ applications related to waste management should be mentioned. RFID™ can be used to simplify data management when weighing trash cans during curbside residential waste collection (Thomas, 2003). Saar and Thomas (2003) demonstrated that RFID™ tags can be used to enable ‘smarter’ recycling and disposal systems which allow both monitoring and understanding of the resource flows in the end-of-life product chain. RFID™ technology has also been used to provide the optimization of municipal solid waste collection in Italy (Faccio et al., 2011) and to improve the waste collection operation, bin, and truck monitoring in Malaysia (Hannan et al., 2011).

This study applies a six-step generic framework proposed by Ting et al. (2013), to the implementation of RFID™ solutions. The scope of the project (step 1) was defined based on the knowledge of the RFID™ technology limitations (e.g. RFID™ cannot work properly close to metals and liquids, some kinds of tags can be unsuitable for use depending on how they will be handled). The scope was restricted in the first phase to guarantee that the hazardous waste disposed by the generator would be delivered to the correct destination with no deviations. Steps 2, 3, and 4 are analysis of the existing system, system design, and prototype development. This study can be the basis for implementation of the process in many companies (step 5), which will create the possibility of monitoring and receiving feedback from users for a continuous improvement cycle (step 6).

The field work was carried out based on data and experience collected during visits to two hazardous waste generator companies, where the material transportation and delivery to a company in charge of waste disposal were closely monitored. In order to propose solutions, the weight checking (at the initial and final destination), packing, truck boarding, and waste disposal, as well as all the certifying procedures for security and correct destination, were verified according to the environmental legislation regulation. Limitations, inefficiencies, and risks throughout the whole process were also investigated. Additionally, some simulations were made using RFID equipment with the purpose of applying this technology to solve any eventual existing problems.

In Rio de Janeiro State, where this research is being made, the hazardous waste manifest (HWM), which is also known as the movement document, is a special shipping document for hazardous waste regulated by the INEA (Rio de Janeiro State Environmental Institute). This document contains data related to the classification/kind of the waste to be transported, its packing procedure, its origin, and its total weight. In case of more than one kind of waste, a specific document is necessary for each one. Furthermore, each movement document/manifest is composed of four copies, stamped by the generator, carrier, and receiver of the waste. This document can be filled out online (http://sistemas.inea.rj.gov.br) or offline using the same document format but without the INEA numbering. In this case, the numbering is created by the generator. It is important to note that the weight checking is not related to each separate packing but to the sum of them all, according to the different kinds of packing. It means that the total weight is interrelated to each HWM. There are also different types of packing materials to suit to different kinds of waste, from plastic bottles to big bags.

The HWM contains information about the carrier company that will provide the transportation, including the vehicle license number. As the document is filled before the carrier vehicle arrival, in case of any vehicle change, it must be registered in the declaration. The carrier may collect waste from more than one hazardous waste generator. In this case, each generator fills one or more HWMs (according to the number of different kinds of waste to be carried).

The carrier collects three copies of each HWM, delivers two of them to the final receiver, and keeps the last one in its archives. The final receiver, after receiving the waste from the carrier, keeps one copy of each HWM, and sends back the remaining copy to each generator. Finally, the generator will send this last copy to INEA.

Waste arrival occurs at the receiver company. First tasks to be undertaken by the receiver company are to weigh the carrier vehicle (Figure 3) and to unload the waste at the unloading area (Figure 4). This process is executed in many stages according to the number of different HWMs: that is, each manifest corresponds to its waste unloading separately. After each unloading, the vehicle returns to the weighing area where its weight is checked again. In this way, considering the difference between each weighing, it is possible to identify the total weight of the waste correspondent to each HWM. Therefore, it is possible to compare the weight of the waste computed at the generator site and the weight of the waste calculated at the receiver company.

The RFID™ tag models chosen must be strong enough to operate in harsh environments, considering the particular characteristics of the sites where they will be handled. Another relevant issue to be considered is the possibility of mechanically fastening the tag to the packaging so, as to avoid attempts of removal after its attachment. According to this specification, we recommend the use of the tag presented on Figure 5a. This tag is suitable for big bag packing (Figure 5b) or plastic bottles (Figure 5c). In case of metal-containing packing, a metal proof tag (Figure 5d, the rectangular black tag attached to the white metal) is preferred to eliminate interference. It is basically a conventional tag which was encapsulated in a plastic casing so that the tag antenna remains far enough from the metal to work properly. Also, it is shielded against harsh environmental conditions such as humidity, temperature, pressure, and other mechanical phenomena. Based on our test results using different types of readers (handhelds, gates/tunnels, and pads), ultra-high frequency (UHF; about 900 MHz) RFID tags were chosen instead of high frequency (HF; 13.56 MHz) RFID™ tags since have proven to provide better reading performance. In addition, the different tag presentations and the small sizes available made it possible to have a variety of tags able to work properly and to fit the different kinds of packing and materials.

The HWM information is stored in a database and accessed through an information system. Besides the existing information available in the conventional HWM form, the database should also store the unique serial number of the tags attached to the waste packs. In other words, it should be possible not only to store the total weight of the waste from each document, but also to control all RFID™ tags used in the transportation of the packaging from the generator to the final receiver. Since each tag has a unique serial number, it is not possible to occur any kind of duplicity of that information. Finally, as soon as the carrier vehicle leaves the generator site, the date and time of the occurrence as well as the latitude/longitude coordinates of the location would be stored in the database above. We suggest using a cloud-based information system. This means that users can access the information system using a web browser regardless of their location or device (e.g. PC, mobile phone). As the infrastructure is off site and accessed via the internet, users can connect from anywhere provided they have a login/password. Therefore, the information system could be updated at the waste generator company, which could register all the information from the waste manifest (kind of waste, weight, packaging, and carrier vehicle data) and the RFID™ tags attached to the packaging as well as the departure date/time and the latitude/longitude of the site.


*US Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) RFI in Washington DC

DOE/ARPA-E April 29, 2020