Is Big Brother watching from Appleton’s ‘Big Blue’ bins?

A reader wrote in last week inquiring about radio chips spying on residents with the new blue recycling containers.Bins

Indeed, the 25,000 containers each contain a RFID chip, which stands for radio frequency identification—but the city says they aren’t using the system yet.

Paula Vandehey, Appleton’s public works director, said the micro chip system allows for very accurate inventory and helps ensure carts stay with their assigned address.

However, the technology also allows for the city to monitor how many times the carts are picked up. The trucks that scoop the bins can create a data entry each time they grab recyclables.

“We’re not planning to use the monitor system at this time,” Vandehey said. “It could help us verify if a neighbor thinks someone isn’t recycling. We could prove that a bin hasn’t been picked up for the last four months. Some people think we’re spying on them, but that’s not the purpose.”

Alderman Kole Oswald said he had some early concerns about the system being too intrusive.

“Some cities actually use them to figure out who is recycling the most, and weigh how much is being recycled,” Oswald said. “It’s not much different than the RFID system used in libraries to track when books have been checked out.”

— Nick Penzenstadler: 920-996-7226, or; on Twitter @npenzenstadler

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