Current barcodes do not allow easy access to the available information regarding the product, whether it is related to recycling or not. For this, we need to use standalone applications that interpret the barcode number and offer us the information they consider important (recycling is usually not mentioned). Improving these barcodes, or rather, improving the way we identify products using their barcodes, could allow us to:
- access information regarding the product, packaging and recycling instructions.
- link the product to us, thus accessing mechanisms to reward the recycling of said product, or warning systems for information we consider relevant (expiration dates, allergens, unwanted ingredients, recyclable packaging, etc.).
Improvements being made to barcodes
Barcodes have already been on the market for 70 years and are becoming obsolete, despite having been improved over the years. GS1, the organization that assigns barcodes for the products we find in the global market, has already started to expand and digitize the codes using a new standard called GS1 Digital Link.
In the next few years, the barcodes we already know will be replaced by QR codes that will allow access to our products’ digital information (we can already see brands doing this). It will allow the products to be recognized not only by the scanners we find in supermarkets, but also be readable by any smartphone. In addition, this new standard allows each product to have its own digital identity and a unique web address, where we can access not only its GTIN (the Global Trade Item Number behind the barcode) but also valuable digital information for consumers. This complements the product’s physical information (its packaging) with digital information. This way, we can digitally obtain the information found on the product (ingredients, calories, allergens, best by date, etc.) and much more (the product’s history, the origin of its ingredients and materials, certification details, benefits of its consumption or use, temporary promotions, etc.).
The improvements that will affect recycling
The most interesting thing about these updates is that they allow the standardized digitization (providing connectivity and an online presence) and serialization (providing unique codes) of our products, offering personalized information regarding the specific unit we hold in our hands. The possibilities and environmental benefits for the field of recycling are huge, including the following:
- access detailed information to sort waste properly. The digitization of the product allows us to offer highly detailed information about it, as well as personalized and geolocated information for the person who purchases, consumes and recycles it.
- get rewards for recycling a serialized product. When a product with a unique code is sold, proof of purchase is linked to it, allowing the implementation of simple recycling rewards systems such as scanners on traditional recycling bins.
- avoid littering or illegal waste dumping. Now that it has a unique identity, we can know who bought and dumped the product. This will discourage consumers from carrying out uncivil actions. In addition, the rewards systems implemented will help promote behavioural change towards a pro-recycling attitude and further consumer empowerment.
For some time now, we at recycl3R have been working to help improve the barcode, and we are members of the GS1 Digital Link Standard Development Work Group. If you have any doubts or queries regarding GS1 Digital Link, or if you want additional information, please do not hesitate to contact us.