Smartrac to Sell Its Smallest Green Inlay

The UHF RFID EAGLE Green Tag includes a paper substrate, a laser-cut aluminum antenna and minimal adhesives to ensure the inlay, commonly used in price labels, can be recycled or composted.
Published: November 12, 2019

As part of its Green Tag program to offer recyclable and sustainable alternatives to standard plastic RFID inlays, Smartrac has released an environmentally friendly RFID tag designed for price labels. The EAGLE Green Tag will serve the retailer and brand market, the company reports, with a paper-based product that can be recycled or composted. The tag is manufactured in a more sustainable way, the firm adds, in part by the elimination of the chemical-based etching process.

The EAGLE Green Tag is designed as an alternative to Smartrac’s existing EAGLE tag. Customers using the standard version can swap it out without requiring changes to a user’s overall RFID system, says Matti Tavilampi, Smartrac’s director of product management. “We want to make it as easy as we can for the customer to start using green products,” he explain. Therefore, Tavilampi says, “There is no need to readjust the read set-ups.” The new tag is expected to be made commercially available during the first quarter of 2020.

Smartrac’s EAGLE Tag

The EAGLE Green Tag is the second new product released in the Green Tag program, which launched in January of this year. The first was the WEB Green Tag (see Smartrac and 4E Antenna Form Partnership to Strengthen Sustainability in RFID Products). Smartrac presented the WEB Green inlay at this year’s RFID Journal LIVE! conference, held this past April in Phoenix, Ariz.

The tags are designed for the unique identification of goods such as apparel and electronics, the company reports, and are suitable for item-level retail applications. Volume production of the WEB Green inlay began in June 2019. Both the EAGLE Green and WEB Green tags are compliant with other comparable inlays in terms of performance and applications, according to Smartrac. The EAGLE is similar to the WEB but is smaller in size, for use in smaller-footprint price labels or hangtags.

Smartrac says it launched the Green Tag program to offer the greatest possible, truly sustainable manufacturing processes offering carbon dioxide reduction and the use of lower-impact materials. According to the Green Tag model, the tags will all be plastic-free. That means the substrate material (paper) is recyclable or compostable, while there is less material overall. The tags can typically be made with just two layers, as opposed to three or more with a plastic tag.

“The paper we use is free of any micro-plastics,” Tavilampi says. Smartrac purchases the paper it uses from sustainable forests where new trees are planted, he notes, in an effort to make sustainable products. An adhesive is used to attach the IC to the substrate—but with fewer layers, he adds, the tags overall will have significantly less adhesive.

When it comes to the antenna, no heavy metals are used and laser-etching replaces the chemical-etching process. The company has partnered with 4E Antenna AB, which provided the aluminum antennas that are being laser-cut for both new Green products. By laser-cutting the aluminum antennas, Tavilampi explains, the company eliminates the need for chemicals and thereby keeps the unused metal residue clean for recycling.

Additionally, the chemical-etching process consumes more energy as opposed to laser-etching, which requires less heat. Smartrac is also looking into developing antennas that can be printed directly onto cardboard with graphene ink, thereby eliminating the need for aluminum entirely. For the Green Tag product line, Tavilampi say, the company conducts life-cycle assessments. The tags employ an NXP UCODE 8 integrated circuit.

The EAGLE Green and WEB Green Tags are among the smallest retail-oriented inlays with global performance available on the market, Tavilampi reports. The EAGLE tags, in fact, are among the smallest UHF RFID tags for retail applications, he says, and are available in dry and paper-tag delivery formats, sized at 44 millimeters by 28 millimeters (1.7 inches by 1.1 inches). The WEB, on the other hand, is a traditional size and is used in hangtags and labels. The EAGLE Green Tag has recently passed Auburn University’s ARC test categories A, B, C, D, F, G, I, K, M, Q, W2 and W5.

The inlay’s materials enable the tags to be recycled, or to eventually decompose when thrown away. Typically, price labels are discarded by consumers following a purchase and thus end up in a landfill. If the RFID tag built into a label is paper-based with light aluminum antennas, Tavilampi explains, it will break down faster if it ends up in landfill than a plastic version would. If consumers reside in places where price labels can be recycled, he adds, the tag makes it possible for the product label to be recycled in the same way a plain paper tag would be.

Companies throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa, the Americas and the Asia-Pacific region are preparing to use the new labels, the company reports, including large clothing brands and retailers. Purchases are expected to be in large volumes. The Green products are intended to meet a growing need for sustainability that retailers and brands are trying to achieve for their own customers. “There’s a big interest for sustainable goods in APAC and in Europe,” Tavilampi states. “It’s been spreading globally”

In the future, Smartrac may continue to provide Green versions of its existing products, as well as sell tags dedicated as sustainable products. Tavilampi views the Green Tag program as a solution to a trending need in the retail market and beyond. “RFID has been booming,” he says, “while at the same time, companies have been seeking sustainable options.” He adds, “Most probably, these won’t be the final Green products. We’re just getting started.” That will include green versions of existing tags and dedicated products for sustainability, which include more UHF tags, as well as new Near Field Communication (NFC) tags.

“What we want to emphasize is how easy the new tags are to use,” Tavilampi says. “And it’s been designed to come at a competitive price.” For some users, he notes, “There are question marks about the reliability of the [sustainable] products,” but both the EAGLE Green and WEB Green tags have been tested and proven to have the same performance as standard versions, he claims.