The dark side of “going green”

Under the politically correct, “going green” umbrella, the city of Atlanta has created a convenient mechanism for thieves and hackers to gain access to individuals’ private data.  The city also has made it easier for companies to track citizens’ spending habits and gain access to other private, personalized information maintained by the city on each homeowner.  One way this is being made possible in Atlanta is a pilot recycling program called “ReCART,” an acronym for “Rewards for Collecting All Recyclables Together.”  

Marketed as a tool for “going green,” with this program, merchants and companies vie for consumer information and track spending habits. Not only that, but through the use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips, this new pilot program would have very personal information of the homeowner or resident just sitting on their front lawn — literally. 

The city of Atlanta has contracted the services of RecycleBank to handle recycling under the city’s ReCART program.  The concept is to encourage people to recycle by “paying” them to do so.  Customers receive “rewards” redeemable at local merchants; with the size of the “reward” based on how many pounds of stuff are recycled per household. 

As with other plans promising something of value in exchange for doing nothing or simply for doing what we would do – or be required to do – anyway, there’s a down side to this endeavor. The dark side to this “green” plan lies in the fact that the company, RecycleBank, is empowered to track consumer spending through how those who sign up spend their “rewards,” or their redeemable coupons at local merchants.  These “reward” vouchers are easily traceable to the individual because they are linked to the RFID chip embedded in a recycling bin, which sits wherever it is placed – generally just outside one’s home.   

RecycleBank’s website privacy policy claims that one’s personal information will not be divulged to other companies without the individual’s express consent.  However, it is nearly impossible to enforce a company’s privacy policy, and extremely difficult to determine when or to whom a company sells its customers’ information. In this case, RecycleBank can easily track how participating citizens spend, by tracking the redeemable coupons offered through local merchants.  Through the personalized household account on the company’s website, one can redeem points earned for recycling and claim his or her “rewards.” 

The real “reward” for the company, of course, is the commercially-valuable information that it gains concerning the spending habits and detailed buying preferences of the individuals participating. 

The RFID chips to be used in recycling bins to track how much a house recycles are not regulated and can be “read” by anyone possessing a scanner.  This technology containing very personal information of an individual, will be sitting on the front lawn of some Atlanta residences for anyone to pass by and scan. 

Individuals eager to show they are doing their part to “save the planet” through recycling, might want to delve a little deeper into the programs they choose with which to salve their “green guilt.”  Sacrificing one’s privacy simply to prove to the world they are good stewards of the environment is not a particularly good bargain.  Some pointed questions should also be directed at the city officials pushing such programs.

36 comments Add your comment


November 25th, 2009
6:54 am

- This is not “the dark side” of anything.
It’s only the equivalent of e-mail spam.
RecycleBank just needs to revamp their system,
much like the Watershed Department and their
faulty readers.

Bill Mackinnon

November 25th, 2009
7:00 am

Bob- There are much scarier and more important things to write about than this. Every retailer and credit card company has the information, and more, you refer to. This is coupons, not SS#’s, etc. Why don’t you discuss the existing managed care rationing of medical that is currently going on. Rationed medical services are not coming with the Health Care reform that Congress is currently posturing about, IT IS HERE!!


November 25th, 2009
7:15 am

The RFID chip only contains an identification number, identifying the recycling bin. Mr. Barr’s article makes it sound like any hacker with a scanner can drive by and scan your name, address, social security number, etc. This is not accurate.


November 25th, 2009
7:22 am

Good grief. Are you against anything “green” to such a degree that you would waste time on such a non-issue? Quite honestly, I applaud the city of Atlanta for taking some progressive steps toward recycling. What happened to hard hitting journalism? Perhaps that’s why you are seeing the decline in newspaper subscriptions.


November 25th, 2009
8:21 am

If you think Bob’s message in this article was to not recycle, you would fail elementary school reading comprehension tests. To those complaining about the “green” aspect of it, that’s clearly not what the article is about.

I agree that companies should not be allowed to track this information, in any case. I would never sign up for something like this, but in general I hate my spending habits being sold to the highest bidder. I assume that similar tracking goes on with for example a Kroger preferred shopper card, so I don’t use those.


November 25th, 2009
8:21 am

Cheers for Atlanta for taking some much needed environmental leadership and bringing a proven program to their residents. There are much bigger fish to fry than rewarding good behavior Mr. Barr. Your hype is intended to scare the good work that is being done. Lighten up and pick on something deserving of debate.


November 25th, 2009
8:22 am

The hacking of the University of East Anglia’s climate research should be enough counter this hoax of man-made global warming. In fact, that should be the standard response to anyone who tries to shove this drivel down our throats.


November 25th, 2009
8:45 am

Hey Bob, in addition to being silly and alarmist, this post is pretty ironic, given the title of your blog: “The Barr Code.” What do you think a bar code is? It embeds information, just like an RFID chip. And it is used mostly by retailers to track what they are selling and yes, what you are buying.


November 25th, 2009
9:02 am

I have to agree with Bob on this one. it would be nice to think the gub-ment recognizes the benefit of “going green” in terms of encouraging a safer, cleaner, more sustainable environment for citizens, but as is the nature of government, it has couched a potentially nefarious scenario as good citizenship. here’s a memo: people who care about their environment have been “green” since day one. I might add that most “greenies” carefully evaluate innovations such as micro-chips and scanners as these things more often than not create NEW (and often more serious) problems. the City of Atlanta doesn’t care about anything but SUSTAINING its unbridled growth and insatiable thirst for power. the fact it can employ the “green” card is a benefit to the City/State, and not the citizens it was supposed to serve.

Chris Broe

November 25th, 2009
9:12 am

Grading Barr: The chap has chops about chips, I’ll give him that.

Freedom Line Blog » Morning Links

November 25th, 2009
9:13 am

[...] Chicago Tribune – Stimulus Snow Job National Review Online – Winner Take All on Health Care New York Times – Senate’s Women Could Sway Health Bill Rep. Bob Barr – The Dark Side of “Going Green” [...]

Mike Fairbanks

November 25th, 2009
9:22 am

Hey, bob. If you were trying to win “most boring article” of the year award, this is a contender. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to watch the grass grow.


November 25th, 2009
9:34 am

Remember the good ol’ days, when journalists actually made sure they knew about a topic before writing about it? It’s very clear, from this article, that Barr has no idea what RFID is, or how the technology works. The RFID chips would not work in the way he is describing, simply because they would not contain the information he says they do–they would contain only an ID number for the bin, not personal information about the people living at the house. There’s a lot of hype out there about RFID, but most of it–like this ill-informed blog–is wrong. This is one report that should have been barred from the onset.

Bob T.

November 25th, 2009
9:37 am

Enough with this alarmist crap already. RFID is NOT a threat to anyone’s privacy, and anyone who has actually bothered to research the technology, instead of writing about it without first knowing what they were talking about, would recognize that. Every time you use a standard mag-stripe credit card or ATM card now, it already contains more information about you than could be skimmed from an RFID chip on a recycling bin. Christ almighty, people. If you folks had been cavemen, our species would never have discovered fire.

The American People

November 25th, 2009
9:52 am

“Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket. Coal-powered plants, you know, natural gas, you name it, whatever the plants were, whatever the industry was, they would have to retrofit their operations. That will cost money. They will pass that money on to consumers.” – Barack Obama.


November 25th, 2009
10:00 am

Bob T. – Most of us don’t enjoy the fact that our credit card usage is tracked either. Identity theft is very real so the issue of data collection and your privacy needs to be considered. I believe Barr has consistently been raising the privacy issues and this is just one example.


November 25th, 2009
10:02 am

So to paraphrase Barack’s message on cap-and-trade “**** you American Citizens”.


November 25th, 2009
10:09 am

Your article is an unncessary piece of scaremongering. Knowing what I do about RFID technology, I don’t think there are any data protection issues with repsect to this activity. I am very sensitive about information about me being passed from pillar to post for commercial gain but this definitely does not keep me up at night as there is very limited information on the chip.

I would praise the city officials for having the gumption to see the detail in this offering beyond your very shallow understanding and communication. I recycle enayway but there are lots of people who need encouragement and I can’t wait for RecycleBank to come to my town


November 25th, 2009
10:23 am

This is a puff piece if I’ve ever read one. Sad, unfairly alarmist, and down right boring. Blah—


November 25th, 2009
10:33 am

Bob, in Georgia you must give your Social Security number to get a fishing license.

Bob T.

November 25th, 2009
10:41 am

ugaaccountant, the point is, there ARE no privacy issues here–he’s raising an alarm where none needs to be raised. No one’s privacy is in danger of being infringed by the application he’s describing here, and had he bothered to do any research, he wouldn’t have seen a need to write the blog in the first place. Protecting people’s privacy is very important, I agree–but protecting it from something that won’t be used to harm them any way is pointless. RFID is NOT the threat to privacy that people are making it out to be. It’s unfortunate that so many people have decided to judge something they don’t understand. Ignorance abounds, on this blog, on CASPIAN and on other sites that babble about issues they don’t comprehend, in order to come off as controversial an on the edge.


November 25th, 2009
10:46 am

1st–As several people point out below, the RFID chip would simply contain a number–a “license plate”, if you will. This number would be of no value to anyone unless someone has access to a backend database which contains the associated information. Think about your license plate on your car. There is a lot of info associated with that plate, however, unless someone bothers to hack the DMV, it doesn’t matter if someone can read the plate.

2nd–Mr. Barr proposes that this program will be used to track your spending habits. If I read the article correctly, then the spending that would be tracked would be on the rewards cards you get for recycling. Now, I don’t know how much money you’d receive for recycling, but I would imagine it wouldn’t be enough to track your true spending habits. I mean, seriously, if you get a gift card to Chili’s or Old Navy (or wherever) for recycling and they “track” that you spent the gift card at that exact place, what information are they really gathering?

Chris Broe

November 25th, 2009
11:26 am

Look, shane, bob barr has to mention the novel 1984 and the big brother thing in every piece, or he’ll explode, okay? It’s his bowl of rice, (like Steve McQueen’s co-star in the movie Sand Pebbles). Now, shane didn’t mean nuthin’, bob. hey, he was only joking.

We all agree with you bob: Big Brother is a bad man. If radio chips gets in our garbages, then our ID’s will get pirated. Like the movie pirate radio. We gets it. Makes perfect sense.

Come back, Shane!

joe matarotz

November 25th, 2009
11:31 am

Bobolink, how does one sign up for these reward points?

Sheldon Reich

November 25th, 2009
11:45 am

Has this newspaper laid off all the fact checkers?

Bob, it is irresponsible to make up science fiction and then pass it off as fact — and a sinister fact at that.

The ReCycle Bank is an incentive based program that rewards consumers for recycling as much as possible. The fact that there is a bar code or an RFD chip on the recycling bin does not mean that anybody can walk by with their pocket reader and retrieve any personal information. It’s just a means to quickly identify the bin so the customer can be credited for the weight of the materials recycled.

In Seattle, the garbage bins are tagged so the municipality can charge you for the trash you throw out based on the weight of the refuse.

There is nothing sinister about this technology used in this application. And you know what? It works. Earlier this summer Westland, Mich. saw a jump from 90 tons of recycling/month to 550 tons/month. North Miami went from a mere 30 tons/month to 170 tons/month.

Learn more about RFID on my blog:

joe matarotz

November 25th, 2009
12:42 pm

Easy there, Sheldon. If you hit Bob with facts, he gets very confused. His vanity plate isn’t BOBOZANIDIOT for nothing.

joe matarotz

November 25th, 2009
12:44 pm

(Don’t look now, Bobolink, but I think Sheldon is with the g-o-v-e-r-n-m-e-n-t. I think he’s pulling your leg. Go take a nap and everything will be fine.)

The Government

November 25th, 2009
2:19 pm

Bob, did you know those RFID chips have already been embedded in your brain? That was done at birth. And the Red Cross adds RFID chips into your blood stream every time you give blood. There’s even an RFID chip in the Preperation H you use for toothpaste. We are already following you. We already know you are beating off right now.

Reality Calling

November 25th, 2009
2:32 pm

Disgraced Former Rep. Barr – if your hypothesis looks logical to you, you must be seeing it through the eye you sit on.

Barr None

November 25th, 2009
10:28 pm

Barr, you are a moron.


November 26th, 2009
8:49 am

Way to go Bob. The rest of the columnists –even the Wingnut Wooten — write about what they are thankful for on this national holiday, but you just cannot resist a little scaremongering.

What’s the matter — isn’t writing about death panels and comparing liberals to Nazis fulfilling anymore?


December 3rd, 2009
8:55 am

What amazes me is that this article hasn’t been removed, given how soundly everyone has debunked it in the comments. What the hack has happened to journalistic integrity, that columnists who completely make things up in order to draw attention to themselves aren’t called on the carpet for it?

Solutions Developer

December 3rd, 2009
5:58 pm

Really, Bob? Does this mean you don’t use any grocery rewards cards and don’t use credit cards and mark out all the bar codes on all the packaging you discard??

Bob, you are an idiot. You obviously have never actually worked with the technology. You should go back to Congress because the only thing you are qualified for is repeating misinformation and extremist hype.

Solutions Developer

December 3rd, 2009
6:08 pm

Here’s an idea Bob. You should sign up for this program, then every month all your neighbors can get together and swap recycle bins. You will have defeated the system you fear so much with very little effort and still be green.

Now can we worry about something important like how those of us who work for a living are going to pay for the healthcare of those who don’t? Don’t forget to include the newest Democrat contribution to citizenry — alien gang-bangers who recant to get citizenship and the illegal aliens who become citizens automatically if they can evade capture for 24-hours.


December 14th, 2009
12:49 pm

I feel sorry for uninformed Mr barr… It must suck to be so scared and clueless about technology and life in general. RFID tags is some applications could possibly be a security risk. But certainly not this one; not even close.
Bob should find something else to do; his reporting style might fit well with a local news job.


January 16th, 2010
4:24 pm

Sheldon Reich – if you are reading this …

Thank you for the RFID blog link. There was another link
to the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) that I found to be
very useful on that blog site of yours.