Green NFC? The Future of Environmentally Friendly NFC Tags is Here

NFC is starting to see significant growth with smart product labeling and smart packaging for Connected Things projects. With NFC tags now being put into product labels and packaging, connecting those products to a personalized digital experience, the environmental impact of NFC tags also needs to be considered. With the adoption of NFC, and its benefits, businesses are expressing an increased desire for environmentally friendly NFC tags. Many brands and distributors, such as Amazon and Apple, are looking for ways to make their labels and packaging as green as possible to meet corporate and government sustainability goals.

Traditionally the UHF RFID and NFC markets haven’t been primarily concerned with the environmental impact of their products. The focus has been more on specific government standards and guidelines such as RoHS for hazardous substances (lead, mercury, cadmium, …), REACH and US and EU food safety requirements such as FDA 21 CFR. With the shift to consumer-focused NFC tags, and deployment of billions of smart labels and packaging, a focus on sustainability is becoming a priority. Luckily for us, and the planet, environmental impact studies have been created and NFC tag manufacturers are aware of the growing demand for green NFC. The Connected Things industry is now seeing more environmentally friendly NFC tags enter the market.

A traditional NFC inlay, the most basic form of a functional NFC tag, is made from several components and materials; PET (polyethylene terephthalate), aluminum or copper for the antenna, an integrated circuit for the NFC chip (silicon, gold..) and an adhesive. From an environmental perspective, the substance of greatest concern in an NFC inlay is PET. PET is a common plastic that is used in many consumer goods, including water bottles and product packaging. While PET is recyclable, when used in the quantity and form of an NFC inlay, it is difficult to separate the PET from other components for recycling, and it tends to jam the processing filters. In addition, the metal of an NFC antenna is difficult to recover and recycle. Ultimately, this has made the overall product packaging of a Connected Things project less environmentally friendly and more expensive.

In response to this obstacle, there are industry efforts already being exercised that will make NFC tags better for the environment. One possible step is replacing PET with a paper-based substrate for the antenna and NFC chip. Paper is obviously much more environmentally friendly and interferes less with the recycling process. A side effect of changing from PET to paper is that the NFC tag can be ripped or torn which could be considered a deficit or a feature, depending on what is desired for a project.

NFC tag manufacturers are also examining alternative ways to make the metal antennas, including “printing” the antennas. There are still strides to be made in these efforts since, to-date, printed NFC antennas have poor performance compared to conventional, subtractive processes. The adhesive used on an NFC tag is another area with room for improvement. Companies like 3M have been working on eco-friendly hot melt adhesives for at least 2 years. The amount of adhesive per tag is also being reduced. Finally, the overall manufacturing process is also being examined with the goal of reducing its carbon footprint and energy consumption. Some NFC manufacturers are experiencing success in these efforts and have been able to reduce their CO2 output by more than 50%.

While the majority of NFC tags that GoToTags currently provides does not have these new materials, we are working with NFC manufactures to design and develop a product line of environmentally friendly NFC inlays and NFC labels. Currently, the minimum order quantities for eco-friendly NFC tags are still too high for some projects, but for Fortune 100 brands, where sustainability is a priority, it is possible today.

As with all things green, there is no single, easy solution. What we do know is consumers today are more educated and aware of the total impact of products and packaging they purchase and use, as well as their potential waste. If there is a commercial demand for environmentally friendly NFC tags, NFC manufacturers will respond to that demand. Many of us in the Connected Things industry are already bringing solutions to the table. GoToTags expects to see a significant increase in sustainable NFC solutions as Connected Things, and NFC, become more popular.

If you are interested in additional information about environmentally friendly NFC tags, and GoToTag’s current offering of these products, please contact us.