6 Ways Bar Codes Make Us Green, and One Barcode Scanner That Can't

barcode with colors photo
Migrated Image

Photo via Conor Lawless via Flickr CC

Today is the 57th anniversary of the invention of the barcode. It's an important invention (even Google changed its logo in celebration) that has changed how we shop, how we ship things, how we organize things, and the list keeps going. But it's also an invention that is still undergoing evolution - primarily by morphing into RFID tagging instead - and being utilized in clever new ways. We've seen some excellent eco-friendly uses of barcodes come up, and here are our favorites (plus a rather lame device that can go by the wayside).

Six Bar Code Ideas We Want to See More Of

1. Carbon Footprint Bar Code
We love the idea of using barcodes to scan items and know their carbon footprint. We're getting closer to having more companies jump on board with reporting the carbon footprints of their products - even Apple has joined the party, and the first TV got its Carbon Footprint Verification. We just need more standardized methods of accounting and reporting carbon emissions for products and supply chains, and the carbon footprint barcode can become a reality.

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Image via Helveta YouTube Screenshot
2. Rainforest Logging Bar Code
Barcodes on rainforest trees has become a way to track and slow the pace of illegal logging. Helveta has created a system where all trees going through logging facilities have barcodes that connect them with certain forests and loggers, and if a tree comes through without a barcode to scan, it's likely illegally logged and the culprit can be tracked. It's a low-effort way to help slow the damage done to rainforests by illegal loggers.

3. Endangered Plants Bar Code
This one has a little twist - it's a DNA barcode, and we love the idea. The Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL) Plant Working Group spent four years developing the barcode, which is based on two genetic markers in plants. They're using this new DNA barcode to build a library that helps them positively identify plants, particularly endangered plants, to help in conservation measures and to stop the illegal trade of endangered plants. There are other uses like ensuring Chinese herbal treatments are using the correct plants.

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Image via EcoEnvelopes
4. Postage Bar Code
This is a fantastic idea for cutting down on paper used in postage. Rather than including reply envelopes, a sender can use a better barcode on the original envelope. EcoEnvelopes has come up with a solution - a USPS approved "eco-indicia" stamp that is two-directional. The envelopes come with an "eco-indicia," and customers with bulk rate permits can use the new envelope, with an "Intelligent Mail Barcode." The problem, of course, is getting more people to use these. This is definitely one technology we'd love to see more of.

5. Bar Codes in Recycling
RecycleBank uses barcodeson recycling bins to make recycling pay off for those participating. RecycleBank focuses on providing incentives, and the concept is simple: Participating customers receive a 35, 64, or 96 gallon RecycleBank container which has a barcode that identifies their home. As the truck collects the recycling it scans the barcode on the container and translates the value of the recycled items into a dollar amount - up to $35 Recyclebank Dollars a month - that can be redeemed though shopping coupons at participating businesses. It's a fantastic use of barcode technology, and will grow as more cities and haulers partner with the company.

6. Bar Codes in Grocery Stores
Food miles. They're a big part of how much of a carbon and water footprint our food has. Barcode scanners in the hands of shoppers could make buying foods with the lowest food miles easier. We would love to see barcode scanners on shopping carts that give us more of this information when we scan the barcodes of products on the shelves. Unfortunately, the idea hasn't taken off quickly. But we're keeping our fingers crossed.

One Barcode Scanner We Can Do Without

The Ikan Grocery Barcode Scanner Here is one barcode scanner that just doesn't fly. It's a $400 scanner that acts as a digital shopping list. You scan an item's package before you throw it away and it logs the product info. Once you have a list built up, it will send your order off to an online grocery store so you can have your groceries delivered to you. We think it's far greener to just stick with writing your list down on scratch paper, rather than lugging this piece of e-waste into your home.