Data mining the rubbish bin

There's much discussion about consumer privacy and shopping in an RFID-enabled world and what personal data will be captured at the checkout. But what about data being captured from your rubbish bin?

Last week I got an unceremonious modern archaeology lesson when the contents of my wheelie bin were emptied after an RFID-chipped mongrel got its paws into it. It smelt pretty bad, but when you look at them, bin contents reveal more about a weekly household budget than any trip to a supermarket.

In the great pursuit of customer data, the humble wheelie bin does something no shopping basket can. It aggregates household purchasing into a single location at collected regular weekly intervals. A supermarket can get some of my demographic purchasing details, but it can't tell what I bought at another shop, when I bought it or where that shop is. But RFID rubbish could.

If you apply RFID tags to the bulk of consumer packaged goods (CPG), the data mining potential of wheelie bins becomes huge. You could identify paddock-to-plate lamb chops, razors, beer, wine, nappies, ice cream, washing powder and anything else that has a wrapper - all by household.

Now if the local councils have half a clue, they will seize this opportunity and sell it back to the CGP industry at a stiff premium (lowering my rates in the process). For starters, they could identify the manufacturers who produce the most packaging in an area - and give them some eco-friendly encouragement by way of an adjustable levy based on the volume of rubbish they produce.

CPG manufacturers could also be made to carry the recycling status of their packaging on RFID tags to allow easier automation of sorting rubbish at waste processing facilities. For certain fast food chains, you could identify whose customers require the most cleaning up after, quantify the cost and bill it back to Jack, Ronald and the Colonel, or whoever.

If RFID data from rubbish is collected on the truck or the tip face, you won't get the privacy invasive details of income, occupation and age of the purchaser – but you will have a record of purchasing down to a very specific location.

This may not be the CPG vision of a new-age supply chain, but sooner or later they will have to sell benefits of RFID to consumers as well as shareholders to get mainstream acceptance.

Besides, they already know what you earn, where you live and how old you are. They're just desperate to know where else you shop.

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