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October 17, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Cascade Engineering just finished a test run of a first-of-a-kind, "smart" waste container that's intended to make garbage pickup more efficient and cost effective for municipalities and waste collection companies.

The containers bear electronic tags that emit radio signals, a technology commonly known as radio frequency identification (RFID). Sanitation personnel use an electronic reader to track and collect data on each container's use.

Cascade Engineering, in partnership with the City of Philadelphia, conducted a large-scale pilot program that put nearly 2,000 RFID-enabled waste containers to the test and demonstrated their automated data tracking and recording capabilities.

Cascade chose Philadelphia for the pilot because the city actually had a need for it, said John Kowalski, marketing communications manager.

"They wanted some way to, No. 1, increase recycling in their area and, No. 2, they wanted to go with a container that was 'smart,'" Kowalski explained. "Their main goal was to incentivize end users to recycle more, therefore reducing landfill waste. The city contacted Recycle Bank in Philadelphia and they, in turn, talked to us about coming up with a solution."

The test pilot ran for six months in two sections of Philadelphia. The city has since purchased the containers and is looking to expand the recycling program to the rest of the city service area, Kowalski said. The pick-up process is simple: A lifter on the refuse truck lifts waste containers, weighs the amount of recycled content in each, and records the amount of recyclable material per household.

As part of the program, area restaurants, retail stores and theaters volunteered to offer households rewards in the form of discount coupons. Kowalski said overall participation rates in the pilot program were more than 50 percent and as high as 80 in some neighborhoods.

"It has been highly successful," he remarked. "It's helping everyone. It's giving the end user discounted meals, movie tickets and things like that from area businesses, and it's also reducing landfill costs and it's good for the environment. It's really a win-win for everyone involved.

"During the pilot, little tweaks had to made here and there, but we got the system down and we can really recreate it anywhere in the country."

Cascade Engineering will help a municipality or waste collection company put together a similar recycling or waste pickup program, helping with everything from equipping trucks and lifters with scales, to providing the carts with RFID tags, to helping with software implementation and data collection. 

The program makes it easy for the city to measure recycling rates, such as how much a certain street or an individual household is recycling. So over time, the municipality can compare the amount of recyclables collected from month to month and year to year to gauge whether participation in the program is increasing, Kowalski explained.

The Philadelphia program utilizes 64-gallon and 35-gallon waste containers, but Cascade can make them in just about any size, he noted. He said Cascade's containers cost about the same as comparable waste containers on the market. The containers debuted at the WASTECON 2005 trade show Sept. 27 to 29 in Austin, Texas.

"A waste container or recycling container is, to an extent, a commodity item. But we're utilizing technology to make it more than a commodity; we're making it useful for tracking data, for providing incentives. We think the future is going to be more geared towards using this sort of technology."

Kowalski said the company has seen a lot of interest in the smart containers but has no orders on the books as of yet.       

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