Wired have an interesting post about researchers in South Korea experimenting with semiconducting ink that would allow manufacturers to replace bar codes in supermarkets withRFID signals. As the article points out though, it’s a proof-of-concept but the technology hastonnes of benefits, not only for consumers but for shipping and logistics.
The benefit for consumers seems to be around reducing the size of queues. However, I’m far more interested in how it might be used once we’ve actually finished with the product itself. Imagine an infrastructure where a container of washing powder could be made of a much more robust material which could be reused time and time again. Like glass, for example. The container could be placed in the same place you put your recycling when you’ve finished with it. Only, instead of being broken down and re-made as another material, the package itself could simply be cleaned out and used again. At the recycle centre, the manufacturer and the type of container could be identified through a central database. Packages could then be grouped together and shipped back to the manufacturer en masse. The manufacturer then repackages their product into the clean packaging instead of making new packaging. Depending on how robust it is, it could be used indefinitely. Of course the packaging, in particular the semiconductor ink, might begin to perish over time but a system could track how many times the packaging has been used and could replace the ink regularly.
If you’ve ever had milk delivered to your door, this model will be familiar. I remember the pride my mum used to take in sending back sparkling clean milk bottles. She would fill them with scolding hot soapy water and let them stand for a few minutes before going at them with her pink Marigolds and The Milk Bottle Brush. Scenes used to run through my mind where some guy on a production line would be washing up milk bottles and along would come one of mum’s bottles and it would totally make his day.
I don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible for people to be rewarded for their efforts too. I remember being given 10p for returning pop bottles, which of course I would immediately give back to the shopkeeper in exchange for a sherbet dibdab, which also happened to cost 10p, coincidence?
Of course, this would equate to some kind of Tesco Rewards scheme and there could be an API and mashups galore etc. Mike’s Family Liked Cherios this week.
What’s more, you could have predictive shopping lists based on what you’ve actually consumed, rather than what you want to consume next week.
The packaging might have card inserts that show the product inside, nutritional information, offers etc.
It just strikes me that many of the problems we have with dwindling resources could be addressed somehow with some of the incredible advances we’re making with nanotechnology and the creation of open real-world local platforms.
As a side note, brands such as Coca-Cola and Gap have tried inserting RFID tags into packaging many times before. There’s usually lots of privacy concerns, which is justified, however it’s really a question of agenda.