Impact of RFID Tags on Recycling

RFID Tags affect a wide gamut of recycling processes.

  • On paper recycling: Adhesives, computer chips, pieces of metal from antennae and conductive inks can affect the process of recycling old corrugated containers, paperboard, etc, and manufacture of new board from recycled feedstock.
  • On pallet recycling: When pallets are composted, the metallic pieces from antennae will be shredded, but cannot break down.
  • On steel recycling: Copper as well as the plastic tag casings are contaminants not only in steel-making, but also as possible air emissions from chimneys or as residuals in the product.
  • On glass recycling: Metals and ceramics are contaminants and can damage the glass kilns, and this will affect recyclers as well as glass blowers.
  • On drum re-conditioners: When drums are refurbished and reconditioned, it's doubtful whether the RFID tags will survive. There is also the possibility of electrostatic effect on residual vapours and fumes in the drums.
  • On plastic recycling: Metals can contaminate PET and HDPE; and thus affect recyclers as well as plastic manufacturers.

These concerns have triggered the thought process for seeking and finding solutions that result in mitigating or minimizing the impact.

  • Material used in tags: can alternate adhesives and metals used for transmission?
  • Amount of material: whether there is a critical mass of metals or chips that can cause problems, and whether this will vary depending on the type of material, or alternately, their quantity at the ppm level that will have the adverse effect.
  • Tag removal / destruction: Are there economic ways for removal of tags, since not all recyclers are big businesses. Also, what can happen if the tag is shredded during recycling?

When tags reach the trashcan

In the case of RFID tags, despite the fact that in their present form they are eco-unfriendly waste, the irony is that they are used to track and classify waste in landfills, medical used material, and trucks transporting waste! When they reach the end of their useful life, their riddance is governed by well-laid rules in many countries on disposal of electronic equipment after use. Obsolete, unusable, unwanted computers, and peripherals, televisions, audio equipment, telephones, and other electronic equipment must be properly disposed or recycled. This electronic equipment may contain heavy metals and other materials that can become hazardous to human health and the environment, including lead, mercury, both of which are toxic, and cadmium. The USEPA currently classifies such discarded electronic equipment as Characteristic Hazardous Wastes under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Can the tags be reused?

Yes, the possibility certainly exists for reusing the active tags after killing their memory at checkouts. Since battery life is as much as 10 years, industry or customer specific tags can be designed so as to contain permanently locked static data as well as memory for rewrite capability. For example, this solution can be considered for application to reusable plastic containers (RPC), that transport and store perishables; most retailers including Wal-Mart insist on RPC's for all items from all suppliers, and use them in retail stores as well.