Trees get barcodes in tracking scheme

Plastic tags containing barcodes, like those on supermarket groceries, are being nailed to trees in tropical rain forests across south-east Asia, Africa and South America in an effort to confront illegal logging, corruption and global warming, Reuters reported. Barcodes already have been nailed to one million trees to help countries keep track of their timber reserves.

The British company behind the technology, Helveta, says the barcodes will help companies comply with tough laws on importing sustainable timber into the United States and Europe. They also could play a role in fighting deforestation, which accounts for about a fifth of global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2).

“We bring transparency and visibility where historically that has probably been limited at best,” Helveta’s chief executive officer, Patrick Newton, told Reuters. The system is less prone to fraud than traditional paper records, carries live data and can help governments to collect more timber taxes, Newton said. While barcodes can’t prevent criminals from cutting down trees, he noted, the system makes it hard for them to process, sell or export the wood.

The company has put barcodes on trees in Bolivia, Ghana, Indonesia, Liberia, Malaysia, Peru and elsewhere. Officials in remote forests use handheld computers to scan the tags from the moment a tree is felled to its processing and export, and the live data is put onto Helveta’s secure computer database.

Government officials and companies can track individual trees through the supply chain and view forest maps on the database. Timber leaving a forest or factory without tags will be viewed immediately as illegal, Newton said. The World Bank estimates the cost of illegal logging at US$10 billion a year.

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