Municipalities Use RFID-based WISTAR to Take Out the Trash

 Several years ago, waste management container company SSI Schaefer Systems Int. Inc., a U.S. subsidiary of the Schaefer Group, introduced its RFID-based Wireless ID Scanning, Tracking and Recovery (WISTAR) system to enable its customers to track their waste containers more easily after they were distributed to homes and businesses. WISTAR consists of embedding RFID tags in the Schaefer containers, as well as offering a Web portal where customers could access and manage information regarding their assets, based on the collected RFID data. The solution was co-developed bySeedSpark, which provided the RFID technology and cloud-based software to manage theread data.

Since that time, more than two and a half million of Schaefer’s RFID-tagged carts have been put into service throughout the United States and Canada. Customers are now looking at ways in which they might expand the solution’s functionality, such as automatically determining when each vehicle’s route needs to be readjusted to make it more efficient.


SSI Schaefer Systems embeds a UHF RFID tag in each container’s left handle during manufacturing. When the company receives an order from a city for a specific number of RFID-tagged carts, it encodes the city’s name to the memory of each cart’s tag, along with the date and other details.

The first deployment was a small pilot project launched in 2007 in Las Vegas, says Maria Frizzell, the sales and operations VP of Schaefer’s waste technology division. Since then, WISTAR—a full solution with hosted software—has expanded into several major cities, including Dallas, Texas, as well as Tampa/Hillsborough County and St. Petersburg, Fla. In fact, St. Petersburg has the largest deployment, with more than 550,000 RFID-tagged containers.


As municipalities, counties and other customers adjust to the system’s functionality, they are beginning to identify ways in which they could do more with it. “Customers are asking for more granular search abilities,” Frizzell says, “as well as tools to manage their work-order requirements post-deployment of the carts.” That includes not only identifying what is being picked up daily, but also determining ways to make routes more efficient.

The initial challenge for using RFID, according to Chad Jenkins, SeedSpark’s president and CEO, was to find a way for data to be captured and viewed in the field (in other words, in front of a consumer’s home), with or without an Internet connection. The result is a system in which data is both written to the tag and stored on the server.

With the WISTAR system, Jenkins explains, a SeedSpark UHF RFID tag made with an Alien Technology Higgs4 chip is embedded under each container’s left handle during manufacturing, where a cavity in that space protects it from the weather, as well as tampering.

At the time the container is manufactured, a unique ID number is encoded to each tag, but other data is written to it as well. When Schaeffer receives an order from a city for a specific number of RFID-tagged carts, it encodes that city’s name to the memory of each cart’s tag, as well as the date (for warrantee purposes) and such details as the cart’s size and the stream in which it belongs (the recycle stream, for example). This information is also stored on the cloud-based WISTAR software platform.

When the containers are shipped from Schaefer’s factory to a customer, a worker uses a handheld reader to interrogate the tags. The captured data is then updated in the WISTAR system to indicate that the containers are en route.


When delivering a new cart to a resident’s home, a worker uses a handheld device toread the cart’s tag and input the house’s address.

Customers using the WISTAR system are equipped with handheld readers provided by SSI Schaeffer and SeedSpark. The company offers both Intermec (Honeywell) and Motorola (Zebra Technologies) handheld products. When delivering new carts to homes, waste-management workers use the handheld to read each cart’s RFID tag and input the address where that cart has been delivered. They then upload that data on the WISTAR software, along with the date, via a cellular connection (or when they place the reader in a recharging dock at the end of the day). While they are onsite, they also write that data to the cart’s tag.


Storing all of this information on the tag provides redundancy and enables staff members to access the data, whether or not they have Internet connectivity.

If there is an exception, such as visible damage to a cart, workers can input that data into the handheld reader, thereby creating a report indicating that the cart needs to be repaired or replaced.

Alternatively, if a resident calls in a request for repair or replacement of a cart, that information is received by the waste-management provider, and is then forwarded to the WISTAR software. This creates a work order that will be closed by a staff member using a handheld reader after he or she completes a repair and reads the tag on the cart, or delivers a new cart and interrogates the new tag in order to link that particular cart to the residential address.

For some customers, this system is sufficient to help them better manage their fleet of carts. The technology enables these users to know which cart belongs on which site, and when it receives any repairs. Other customers are ordering RFID readers to be mounted to trucks, in order to track each time they empty a container.

SeedSpark makes a fixed reader that can be attached above a truck’s hopper. The device comes with a GPS unit and a cellular radio. Each week, the tags are read as the bins are lifted to the hopper. The reader captures the data on the tag, including the address and the unique ID, and writes an update to that tag indicating that the cart has been emptied. That data, along with the GPS location information, is then sent to the server via the cellular connection.

The WISTAR reader firmware is programmed to recognize only the unique ID numbers that are part of the WISTAR system. In that way, other EPC UHF tags that might be in an individual’s trash—such as RFID price tags removed from merchandise that the person has purchased—will not be captured.


Initially, the technology was used to simply confirm that containers were distributed properly and (for trucks that have been fitted with RFIDreaders) emptied each week. However, waste-management companies have been finding other uses for the collected data. For instance, many are interested in using historical data from truck readers to determine when and how quickly containers are being picked up, and where vehicles are being delayed. In that way, dispatchers can better determine each truck’s route.


The latest version of WISTAR will offer a route-optimization feature that will identify the route each truck takes, as well as when the containers are picked up and how the trucks should be reassigned for more efficient routes. The system will also enable users to ascertain when an additional vehicle might be needed, or is unnecessary.

In addition, the software can be set up to issue alerts if an address is overlooked, or in the event that a repair has not been made within an expected amount of time.

Approximately 25 percent of Schaefer’s container customers are currently employing the WISTAR system, Jenkins says. This includes using the trucks’ onboard readers to capture data about each container tip, as well as any other required asset-management information.

- Post Time: 12-11-15 - By: