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QR codes, which had begun a fall into obscurity, have come roaring back. Many restaurants sport these matrix barcodes on tables as replacements for menus. One even appeared in an ad for cryptocurrency during this year’s Super Bowl. Pharmaceutical and consumer health care brands should employ them to reduce their environmental impact and create positive patient experiences.

First used in 1994 to track vehicle manufacturing, QR codes — the QR stands for quick response — had a variety of uses. Most took the user to a website displaying information. These images initially required a special reader or app, but their integration into smartphone cameras, along with the Covid-19 pandemic, helped propel them into more mainstream use. In 2021, 90% of consumers reported having scanned a QR code within the last month.


QR codes can play a critical role in reducing packaging, which accounts for an estimated 30% of landfill waste annually. The drug packaging market, growing at a pace of 6.4% a year, is a substantial contributor to paper and packaging waste. QR codes offer opportunities to reduce paper and plastic packaging while providing the added benefit of accurately and efficiently collecting first-party consumer data, which provides opportunities to pursue servitization, the augmentation of products with value-adding offerings like expert advice or subscription access to products.

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