They came for West Asheville first. Down little streets with barely enough room for two cars to pass, streets that even locals have to think “where the heck is that?” when the name is mentioned.
Off the truck they came, fully assembled and lovingly placed in driveways, breezeways, and yards. Big, bold, blue and beautiful, the long-rumored and anticipated ‘all in one’ recycling program has fanned out across the city. The blue cans have become part of the landscape, just like the green ones did long ago.
But is there a secret hidden in this gift? A Trojan horse for the unsuspecting homeowner?
Shortly after getting the cans Xpress started hearing rumors the blue bins were spying on us. Peeking in the windows, poking around the sock drawer, invading your wireless networks, you know the kind of things you don’t want your bins doing – at least not when you are not home. One enterprising West Asheville man wrapped his blue can in aluminum tape.
Okay. What’s the story?
Yes, the cans have Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips. According to Maggie Ullman from the city of Asheville, “The chips are passive; they require a reader to do anything at all.” They are a tool to help the city verify costs, just like a clipboard or a pencil, but they save lots of manpower.
When a truck picks up a blue bin, the extremely low-powered reader activates the chip when it gets in range. It reads the weight of the can and the address. This, according to Ullman, “Gives us our first real, objective look at recycling. It will let us, at the end of the year, divide cost by actual weight to see what the program really costs. No one knows this right now. It is not a secret plan to charge by weight.”
RFID tags or chips have been used for a long time – your dog probably has one – and some of their implementations have been controversial. But the bottom line is, they can’t spy on you, they can only weigh your recyclables. Today.
Oh, and the cost of the RFID gear? “About a dollar per bin would be the average,” said Ullman.