Smart Labels for Waste and Resource Management

This article explores the potential of RFID (radio frequency identification device) for improving the current waste and resource management system in Switzerland. It presents the following three possible options for utilizing RFID tags to support waste management processes: “at source automation” (using a “smart” trash can), “end of pipe I” (combination of the current system with an additional separation of recyclables before incineration), and “end of pipe II” (replacement of the current recycling infrastructure by sorting at the incineration plant). These options tackle the waste and resource management chain during different processes (i.e., waste generation, waste separation, and treatment). Based on an MFA (material flow analysis), we performed a multicriteria assessment of these options with experts from the waste management sector. The assessment of ten experts in the waste management field regarding the proposed options for batteries and electrical appliances showed that, from an ecological perspective, the implementation of RFID in waste management would be desirable and would lead to an improvement in the current recycling rate in Switzerland for the goods studied. From an economic perspective, new investments would be required in the range of 1 to 5 times the maintenance costs of the current separate collection system. From a social perspective, the utilization of RFID tags in the waste management process was ambiguous. In particular, the end of pipe II option would, on the one hand, significantly improve convenience for consumers. On the other hand, experts see privacy and, what is more, social responsibility as being under threat. The experts considered the ecological and social aspects to be more relevant than the economic ones, preferring the end of pipe I option over the other options and the status quo.

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