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RFID and the Environment

RFID technology will play a critical role in helping companies determine the environmental impact of manufacturing and recycling their products.
By Mark Roberti
Aug 17, 2009One reason I've always been adamantly opposed to the idea of requiring retailers to kill or remove RFID tags at the point of sale is that I believe the technology can play a positive role in helping companies reduce the environmental impact of their products' disposal. Recent events have only strengthened my feeling on this issue.

In late June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a climate and energy bill mandating a 17 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and an 83 percent cut by 2050. The bill aims to achieve these reductions by putting a price on carbon dioxide through a cap-and-trade system. The idea is that companies unable to meet the targets can purchase credits from those able to reduce emissions by more than the specified level.

One challenge, however, will be in determining who deserves credit. If a regulator claims a company's products traveled 500 miles by truck and assesses a penalty, how will the business prove that its products actually traveled half that distance? RFID could be used to confirm the point of departure and the point of arrival, so that the exact distance can be measured. If the bill includes credits for recycling, how will a firm prove it recycled 1,000 personal computers or 50,000 tons of corrugate? RFID could be employed to track items to recycling facilities.

On July 16, Wal-Mart held a meeting with 1,500 suppliers in Bentonville, Ark., and announced a new sustainability effort. Wal-Mart has engaged a group of universities to create a method for evaluating how sustainable or environmentally friendly products are. Businesses will be required to put simple information on their products, so consumers can make purchasing decisions based, in part, on how much impact a particular product has on the environment.

In his remarks at the meeting, Wal-Mart's president and CEO, Mike Duke, said: "Despite all the work that's been done, we see only bits of information, but not the full picture across the supply chain. We don't know the patterns, hidden costs and impacts of the products we make and sell, nor do we have a single source of data or a common standard for evaluating the sustainability of products."

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