Packaging environmental claims--still a challenge for many
posted by Kari Embree, Senior Digital Content Editor -- Packaging Digest, 8/1/2013 12:05:00 PM
A few months back, I read an article in Packaging Digest about consumers taking responsibility for "green actions." After citing some statistics about how a "record-high 71 percent of Americans" are "buying with an eye toward green," the article went on to talk about some of the challenges consumers have in following through on their intent. At least 33 percent indicated that inadequate resources, "such as recycle bins or community access," were preventing them from following through. An even greater number-60 percent-indicated that they find the environmental terms companies use in their product advertising or package messaging misleading or confusing.
That got me thinking about the on-package messaging audits we've done, particularly around recyclability. Here are common mistakes we've found, and why the messaging is misleading or just plain incorrect.
• A variety of brands of pump-dispensing hand soap bottles display the Möbius loop (or chasing arrows) on the bottle component of the packaging. These packages are typically a polyethylene (PET) bottle and a polypropylene (PP) closure with a pump assembly that includes metal parts. Use of the Möbius loop on the bottle provides only part of the information the consumer requires. Indeed, more than 60 percent of the population (the percentage required by the Federal Trade Commission's Green Guides to make a recyclability claim) have access to recycle both PET bottles and non-bottle rigid plastic items. However, since the pump has metal parts that cause problems in plastic reprocessing, the PP closure with its pump assembly is not recyclable and should be labeled as such.
• Most grocery stores today sell pre-washed, pre-cut vegetables in plastic bags. Many of these bags display the resin identification code (RIC) No.4 with its chasing arrows. Using a RIC in this manner constitutes a "widely recycled" claim since a majority of consumers believe the RIC is a recycling symbol. While low-density PET No.4 bags are recyclable, the message is misleading. It suggests curbside collection, which is only available to about 20 percent of the population. LDPE bags need to be dropped off at retail stores for recycling, so the packaging needs to clarify that. An appropriate label would be the Möbius loop (not the RIC) prominently displayed with the words "store drop-off."
• Chewing gum is regularly sold in multipacks consisting of a small paper carton containing the individually paper- and foil-wrapped sticks of gum and sealed with a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) overwrap. The most common labeling found on these packages is a No.3 RIC, indicating PVC and constituting a "widely recycled" claim. Virtually none of the U.S. population has access to PVC film recycling, so the labeling is incorrect.
Additionally, since the label is on the outer packaging component, most consumers infer that it applies to all of the packaging components, which is also misleading. To facilitate proper disposal of this type of packaging, all of the components should be labeled. The plastic overwrap and foil wrapper should have a Möbius loop with a red slash through it, indicating that they fall into the "not yet recycled" category. The paper wrapper (if separate from the foil wrapper) should carry the Möbius loop, as should the paper carton. Common mistakes like these are a primary reason GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition, with input from its member companies, created the How2Recycle Label. The label is designed to help brand owners provide clear and consistent recyclability guidance to consumers for each component of a product's packaging.
Author Katherine O'Dea is senior director of innovation and advisory services for GreenBlue. For more information about GreenBlue's Sustainable Packaging Coalition, visit www.sustainablepackaging.org.
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