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Product Genome: revolutionary process to decode consumer products

Smarter Sorting has developed machine-learning technology with the potential to decode any consumer product’s chemical makeup, unlocking once unfathomable opportunities for manufacturers, retailers, and consumers.

“A rose is a rose is a rose.”

This famous line, penned by poet Gertrude Stein in 1913, illustrates the idea behind the law of identity—that “things are what they are.” 

In the world of marketing, this is not always the case.

The other day, while perusing the snack aisle, I came across a family of products all categorized as “vegan beef jerky.” One brand had smoked garbanzo beans, while another was made with beef (as in cattle, “moo, moo”) that only consumed organic grass. 

While I applaud clean-living heifers, the rules of nature don’t permit me to say that eating grass-fed cattle is a vegan choice. And yet, somehow, these two products were being presented as essentially the same. How did we get here, where “steer” equals “garbanzo”?  

Easy answer: we often let marketers dictate the storytelling of the products we buy. 

The problem with this framework, as illustrated with the jerky example, is that sometimes these stories become tall tales. So, we asked: what if there was a better way?

-What if there was a way for consumers, manufacturers, and retailers to see the full, standardized truth of the products (and product packaging) we see on store shelves without the filter of marketing?

-What if this information provided instant, automated information to manufacturers and retailers that empowered better decisions regarding product design, production processes, health and safety, storage, shipping, government regulations, product disposal, and circular economy opportunities (e.g., reuse, remanufacture, recycling)?

-What if manufacturers and retailers could track and report fiscal, operational, and sustainability metrics at every stage of the product lifecycle?

Smarter Sorting has already started to answer these questions.

Introducing ‘Product Genome’

The Human Genome Project (launched in 1990) sought to map every gene in the human DNA—an endeavor that would eventually unlock data used to fuel myriad scientific advancements. 

Fast-forward to 2019 and Smarter Sorting seeks to map a new “genome” of data: consumer product information. Through a process of aggregating and leveraging chemical data relevant to government regulations, Smarter Sorting has developed a proprietary machine-learning algorithm that can “decode” any chemical product. 

We call this the Product Genome. Think of it as DNA for the things we buy.

Product Genome is a unified, codified blueprint for consumer products. It’s a repeatable, unbiased, and standardized process for determining everything we need to know about a product—allowing Smarter Sorting to understand how to ship, store, responsibly dispose of, reuse, donate, or recycle it. By removing the human element from the process, we can determine every characteristic of a chemical product with just a few simple inputs. 

Product Genome augments basic chemical traits, allowing Smarter Sorting to deliver a full product picture, including:

  • Chemical and physical characteristics
  • Regulatory and shipping classifications
  • Packaging and shipping specifications

Product Genome’s ultimate goal is to decode every consumer product on the market—a shift that would fundamentally change how we understand, affect, and are affected by the full lifecycle of all the products we use every day. 

Smarter Sorting has forged relationships with stakeholders who have helped make this technology a reality, including two of the top-three largest retailers in the world, the largest retailer in Canada, and U.S. Ecology—a leading provider of environmental services to commercial and government entities.

While Product Genome data is currently limited to helping companies safely and responsibly handle dangerous and regulated goods—including chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and electronics—the Product Genome product catalog is projected to expand quickly as more retailers and manufacturers join the effort.

At Smarter Sorting, we believe consumer products need a codified genome. We aim to fix this system by creating a gold standard for consumer product information that is regular and repeatable—a system where a garbanzo bean does equal a garbanzo bean.