Retailers, manufacturers and brands face myriad regulations on how to handle and dispose of millions of potentially dangerous consumer products, from bathroom cleaners to nail polish, about 7,000 in all . These rules determine, among other things, whether, for example, an item can be recycled and ultimately the cost of a company’s supply chain activities.
Additionally, many companies end up sending products to be incinerated, to better avoid the possibility of paying costly fines for missteps.
This is the problem of smart sorting addresses. Founded in 2015, its platform uses data and computational algorithms to enable manufacturers and retailers to determine the potential hazards of environmentally sensitive and regulated consumer products, enabling them to manufacture, market and dispose of their goods more efficiently and sustainably.
“You may know what the ingredients in your product are, but not how the rules apply to the ingredients you have or what the ingredient concentration levels mean,” says Jacqueline Claudia, CEO of Smarter Sorting. To complicate matters, these multiple rules often change.
How it works? The platform analyzes the physical and chemical attributes of regulated consumer products by breaking down chemicals into their components, also extracting information from other databases, using billions of data points across millions of products. Ultimately, users reduce their impact on the environment, while avoiding heavy penalties and reducing supply chain costs.
Storage and end of life
For retailers, one of the issues targeted by the platform is the issue of storage. For example, flammable products usually need to be placed in a special area of a warehouse with additional fire extinguishing equipment. Usually a small space, retailers may not have enough room to store everything and may not have enough information to understand what products really need to go in that special room. But if the storage capacity is not enough, the manufacturer will have to ship the product directly to the stores. This forces the company to choose the most expensive supply chain option available.
On the other hand, if a product can be safely stored outside of this special area, it can be shipped to a fulfillment center instead.
Determining the right path to manage the end of life of a product is another problem. Without the right information on how to dispose of an item, companies tend to choose the most conservative method, which tends to be incineration, a very polluting process. Additionally, in states that do not allow such methods, the product would be trucked to a state that does, creating even more greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, knowing the composition of a product makes it possible to choose another, more sustainable path, such as recycling.
Ultimately, according to Claudia, the platform makes the whole process highly transparent and traceable. “It brings to the industry a level of accountability that has been missing for a long time,” she says.
The platform has been adopted by more than 1,700 brands and 24 major retailers, including Costco, according to the company, which has raised a total of $55.2 million.