RFIDs replacing Barcodes

Barcodes have been used for more than 30 years to identify products, we can pretty much find them on all packaging. But it seems like the retail industry is running out of barcodes number (it’s only 12 or 14-bit) and that the barcode is not good enough anymore. A newer technology that will most likely replace barcodes is currently emerging, RFID (Radio frequency identification). A RFID is basically a simple microchip that has a number and act as radio antena so it can be remotely scanned. It has considerable advantages over the conventional barcode including that every single product can be assigned a unique number (instead of usually a number per type of product), and tags can be scanned remotely in bulk, instead of product by product. RFIDs are already widely used in applications such as security cards, anti-thief system in music stores, etc… But now the retail industry seems to want to replace all barcodes by RFIDs. Wal-Mart is already requiring its top 100 suppliers to place RFID tags on product cases and pallets by January 2005, beginning in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
This new practice raises a couple of important issues on privacy and environment. A lot of people seems to be concerned with the privacy issue see PCWorld article and RFID Privacy Blog, because all RFID can be remotely tracked.
Some organization seems to start being interested in how to extract these microchip to continue to be able to recycle the packaging materials. OFFE
However from my google search I have not found any study about the environmental impact of producing all these silicon microchips that could replace all barcodes (that’s a lot of microchips).
Interestingly some other people believe that it could improve recycling management as well. see Industrial Ecology and the Digital Revolution

2 Responses to “RFIDs replacing Barcodes”

  1. sieber says:

    It’s ironic that the same innovations promoted to reduce waste inevitably introduce their own waste (see previous posting on batteries). Thanks for bringing this up. Very few people have thought of the sheer number of these RFIDs, no matter how small they are, and their consequent impact on the environment, both in their production and disposal.