• bar codes;
  • electronic tags;
  • optical tags;
  • product life-cycle management;
  • radio-frequency identification (RFID);
  • recycling


In this article, we explore several options for linking information technology to materials and products through the use of bar codes and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, and the implications for product life-cycle management. We also describe tests with existing and modified tags, both on and inside products, as would be needed for environmental management applications.

Bar codes are cheap and have an existing infrastructure; RFID tags are more expensive and less widespread, but they can be read without a line of sight between the tag and the reader. Bar codes and RFID tags carrying basic product information could link to different databases for a range of applications. Product tags could increase recycling efficiency by automating the sorting of recyclables or by linking to product dismantling instructions during the recycling process. Product tags could provide incentives for good waste management, through Universal Product Code (UPC) bar-code recycling coupons or through RFID tag automatic recycling credits for curbside collection programs. Measures to encourage the development of these types of applications include moves toward competitive, market-based waste management systems, the encouragement of experimental systems, and coordination between manufacturers and waste management industries.