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Residents Balk Against New Recycling Carts

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December 6, 2012


Anne Arundel County may have inadvertently shot itself in the foot as it opted to purchase and deliver to residents upgraded recycling carts containing embedded radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips. Although not currently activated, the chips could someday provide the county with information for recycling purposes.

Over 50,000 of the larger 65-gallon recycling carts containing the chips were distributed to Pasadena residents over the past few months, and the county’s Department of Public Works plans to eventually distribute the new containers countywide to replace the older and smaller rectangular bins and circular containers. In addition to the chip, the latest cart features wheels and a flip cover.


Although the county was responding to residents’ needs for larger recycling containers, it may not have realized the potential backlash for providing containers with embedded chips. Some residents were quite concerned with government invasion of privacy, despite the fact the chips are not currently active and the county has stated on its website it has “no current plans to use the technology.”

Residents, however, wondered why the county would opt to spend additional money for something they don’t plan to use. The county believed purchasing the chips at the time of production would give a “cost-effective degree of flexibility if the RFID technology is ever considered at any time in the future.” The additional cost of the chip was only 75 cents per container. Had the county opted not to purchase the chips at production time but later decided to use them, retroactively fitting the carts would be a much more expensive and logistically challenging situation.

The new 65-gallon recycling carts are the only county-provided recycling containers fitted with RFID chips. The county says residents are not allowed to remove the chips, as the carts are county property. However, residents are not obligated to use the chip-embedded carts and can still use the older non-chip county recycling containers or even their own container marked with an “X.”

Residents who have received the chip-embedded bins but do not want them can contact the county’s Recycling Division at 410-222-7951 to request pick-up or exchange of unwanted carts, containers or bins.

RFID is a leading automatic identification technology. RFID tags communicate information by radio wave so objects may be identified, located and tracked. The fundamental architecture of RFID technology involves a tag, a reader and a database. A reader scans the tag and transmits the information on the tag to a database, which stores the information.

Although Anne Arundel County officials have not discussed any future uses of the RFID chips, other jurisdictions and private collection companies have used chips to track participation rates, create incentive/reward programs, track and locate their assets more effectively and verify where and when pickups take place.

Over recent years, Anne Arundel County has taken concerted effort to encourage residents to recycle more. Recycling materials helps save valuable landfill space, and the county earns money for selling recyclables to recycling companies.

Although the percentage of trash being recycled has been on the rise, more encouragement was needed. In 2007, the county adopted a “Recycle. More. Often.” campaign with a goal of getting county households to recycle half of their trash. Pasadena and Severna Park were the first areas in the county to achieve the 50 percent recycling goal back in 2010.

"I would like to thank these communities and individual citizens for their investment in our future and ask them to continue to recycle more often," said County Executive John R. Leopold. "Our new and improved methods of outreach and education, increased awareness and extremely simple recycling process are the reason we are now seeing changes in the recycling habits of our citizens."


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