Meet Vivian Tai, Director of Innovation at GS1 US, the American division of GS1, a nonprofit organization you interact with daily and probably do not know by name. Its product, the Universal Product Code, or UPC barcode, is on virtually everything you buy and could power your participation in the circular economy. The original UPC barcode transformed shopping in the 1970s, first providing retail workers the ability for retail checkers to scan into the inventory management and point of sale systems, then later allowing self-checkout by shoppers. GS1’s internal mantra is the identification of everything makes anything possible. The organization’s new GS1 Digital Link Standard uses scannable QR codes to connect and track products, even specific individual units produced across the entire lifecycle.
The evolution of circular products will grow on scannable codes, something every one of us with a phone in our pocket. The combination of a smartphone and QR code could unlock closed-loop recycling to ensure that companies who make or distribute products and packaging can take responsibility for the materials they use at every step, ultimately reducing the need to extract raw materials to lower humanity’s environmental footprint. You can learn more about GS1 US and its technology at https://www.gs1us.org/