The trend towards greener packaging that is more easily recycled could boost sales of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, a global trade association has suggested.
AIM Global, which represents producers of automatic identification and mobility solutions across the world, has said that the growing use of RFID technologies in green-related applications is one of the most promising market segments in the industry.
It predicts that consumers will see significant increased usage of RFID in environmentally friendly programmes worldwide over the next 18 months, including an increasing take-up in product packaging.
"RFID is already widely used in the food and drink industry," Dan Mullen, president of AIM Global, told this website. "But it is used primarily to track shipments of products between manufacturers and retailers, with RFID tags on pallets or cases."
"But in some high-value sectors - clothing, electronic goods, even wine - we are seeing RFID tags on or in product packaging itself, allowing for more versatile applications."
Mullen suggested, for example, that tags embedded in packaging suitable for recycling could be 'read' in order to be more effectively and efficiently sorted, saving both time and money.
"Several US states are using recycling bins with embedded RFID chips. The bins are scanned and weighed and an RFID-enabled system tallies credits for households that are above average for recycling. The system then issues 'recycle dollars' that can be used at participating businesses for discounts."
But Mullen stressed that it was likely to be some time yet before RFID technology could be used in this way on more everyday food and drink products, simply because of the cost effectiveness.
He said that the average cost of an RFID tag was eight to 12 US cents - not a significant amount when one chip is added to a pallet of products for tracking, or embedded in the packaging of an item such as a television.
"But when you are talking about adding a tag to every packet of a product that sells for a couple of dollars at most, then it clearly becomes less cost-effective."
New technologies could help speed up this process, however. "There is research being done on printable electronic circuits, which could be printed straight onto packaging like barcodes rather than stuck on as they are now."
And he said that companies were also looking at ways of making the packaging - especially packs with some form of metal element - act as the transmitter of the radio frequency.
"A large percentage of the cost of tags comes from the assembly - the cost of adding the antenna to the tag. If that most costly part of the process could be avoided, the price of tags could come down significantly."