An Unlikely Battle: Barcodes vs. Illegal Logging


An Unlikely Battle: Barcodes vs. Illegal Logging

While it might be hard to imagine, barcodes have become an integral part in the fight against illegal logging in countries around the world.

Barcodes have become an integral part in the fight against illegal logging in countries around the world.

The Negative Impacts of Illegal Logging

The World Bank has estimated that illegal logging costs the world’s economy in excess of $10 billion every year in lost taxes and reduction in market prices for wood products. While that may be reason enough for companies to take this issue seriously, there is also the major negative impact deforestation is having on our natural world.

Wood is a great store of carbon, and forests across the world act as giant lungs absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. Most people agree that climate change is one of the biggest problems facing the world today – and illegal logging is fuelling that problem.

Here’s how barcodes are helping.

Barcode Technology

Liberia has a history of illegal logging, and has subsequently faced years of logging bans. However, a program started in 2008 aimed at enhancing a legal logging trade in the country has revolutionised timber trades around the world.

Oxford-based company Helveta, now trading as Elements Software, are behind the technology. Durable plastic barcodes are hammered into felled trees, their stumps, and any processed wood products, to identify the wood source. The barcode is scanned by the forestry managers on site using a handheld device, and the information is uploaded and stored on a secure database.

The information held in the trees’ unique barcodes includes their felling location, species, length, diameter and volume of wood, as well as their destination. This live data stream means that at any point the barcode can be scanned, and the history and future for the wood can be tracked.

How Does This Stop Illegal Logging?

Of course, this doesn’t mean bad guys aren’t able to chop trees down when they shouldn’t, but it does mean that the illegally felled wood is hard to move – wood without barcodes is viewed as illegal and therefore cannot pass through processing or distribution plants.

What This Means for the Wider Audience

As with every industry where proof of origin is important, the barcode system allows governments to collect more timber taxes, which in theory should help the communities of these countries, which are often poor. More accurate records of logging activities also mean companies can be held accountable for their actions much more seamlessly than with older paper record systems.

In the UK, the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) is perhaps the most recognisable symbol and name when it comes to buying wood for our latest DIY project or when we’re choosing retailers to buy wooden furniture or products from. We have come to expect the wood in our tables, floors and timber-frame houses to come from sustainable sources. This modern view of responsibility when it comes to the environment, along with tougher import laws in the US and Europe, means that those at the very start of the timber trade journey are increasingly accountable for their practices.

Barcode technology in timber tracing is now in use in countries like Honduras in Central America, Indonesia in SE Asia, as well as African countries like Liberia, where it all began.

We love hearing about cool uses for barcodes and how they’re helping the modern world – next time you see a barcode label on your tin of beans, just think of the impact those black and white bars are having on the wider world!

If you want to update your business with the latest barcode options, or any other label needs you may have, contact Tanto Labels to see how we can help you!

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