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Feature: Identity in the waste chain

Although radio frequency identification (RFID) has been around for more than half a century, only recently has it evolved as a leading technology in the industry sector.

RFID is a unique system that transmits detailed information about an object or person using radio waves.

It is regarded as the next significant stage of development after the ubiquitous barcode, which only contains limited data about a product such as identification and price. There is an acknowledged opportunity for the widespread use of RFID and, due to cost-reducing advances in hardware, the technology to implement it has become much more affordable.

Tagging a piece of equipment at the manufacturing stage means that it carries all the details of the components, plus the required process for disassembly and disposal. The information held on the RFID tags can be passively picked up by a reader and therefore does not even have to be visible to access.

There are four types of RFID tag. Active tags require a battery, have a range of up to 100m and contain large data storage facilities. Passive tags require no battery but have a short range of less than 3m. Data storage tags are read-only, while intelligent tags have the ability to monitor both the environment and location.

So how can RFID be of use in waste management? In its broadest sense, it allows cradle to grave control of the materials used in everyday products. Currently, most waste handling is the collection and safe disposal of waste that has not had the benefit of careful identification before being classified.

RFID tagging can also help improve the efficiency of more general waste handling, with the potential to apply tags to skips so that they can be identified on placement, collection, disposal and, if using a mobile reader, checked even while in use. This would enable a significant reduction in the paperwork involved in waste handling.

Tags could also be used to identify the location of vehicles in a waste tip to ensure that waste is unloaded in the correct place, especially if it is classed as hazardous. Tags on a vehicle, when associated with load data, can be used to direct it to the correct location and, more importantly, readers at the tipping locations or zones can alert both driver and management if errors are made or about to be made.

As businesses operating in the EU face compliance with the Waste Electrical Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directives, the requirement to identify the component parts of a product in manufacture will be implemented to ensure that safe disposal can be facilitated at the end of its life. But data standards for the tagging of products at manufacture must also be set up to enable this to work effectively, and the technology needs to facilitate significant efficiencies in the implementing of waste initiatives.

Companies trading in the EU need to have systems in place to return consumer waste free of charge by August 13 2005, and by December 31 2006 they will be required to finance the return of 75% of all products. The deadline for RoHS is July 1 2006, by which date all non-military products will need to be void of lead, mercury, cadmium, and other harmful substances. Documented proof of compliance will be needed to prevent regulated geographies denying entry.

For nearly three decades, Oracle provided the software and services to allow organisations access to the most up-to-date and accurate information from their business systems. Now it is looking to capitalise on the developing RFID technology by releasing software program

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