Easing recycling confusion

By Kelly Lahvic in Sustainable Packaging on May 22, 2014

Walk down a busy street and ask an average person: “What can you do to help the environment?” The answer you’re most likely to hear: “Recycle.”

Most people want to do good by recycling, but often end up confused about how to correctly recycle materials and feel that the search for instructions is difficult and ultimately not worth the effort. Others believe they are recycling properly when they are not.

GreenBlue’s How2Recycle Label aims to ease some of these common recycling pains by making recyclability claims more transparent and clear to consumers, thus increasing the quality and quantity of recycled materials, while also providing a labeling system that follows the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides. The How2Recycle Label is the only on-package recycling label that communicates recyclability across all material types of a package, even when a packaging component is not recyclable. Since the soft launch in 2012, the program has grown to more than 25 participants, including Target, Wegmans Food Markets, McDonald’s USA, Seventh Generation and many more. As the program continues to grow, it’s making strides toward reaching its larger goals of educating consumers and increasing the quality of recycle material.

Last month, GreenBlue released the 2013 How2Recycle Label Annual Report. The report details How2Recycle’s progress during its first year as a fully launched program and is available for download. Early in 2013, the organization published the first report which detailed the research, legal considerations and consumer testing that went into developing the program. Of note in both reports are reasons for the program’s development, program goals and consumer feedback obtained through a survey from the program website, how2recycle.info (the URL found on all packages carrying the label).

The extensive survey feedback confirms that the label is appropriately communicating recyclability to consumers. Of those consumers who came across the label on a package (as opposed to reading about it in a news article or hearing about it elsewhere), a large majority (77 percent) said that they had a positive experience with the label. Additionally, 80 percent of consumers feel more positively about companies that use the How2Recycle Label on their packaging.

While most consumers who spotted the label on their packages found it easy to understand, a small portion were unsure of what recycling actions to take or found the label unclear. Many survey responses from “unclear” consumers confirmed an important issue that the How2Recycle Label is working to address: the misunderstanding of Resin Identification Codes (RICs). Consumers ask for the “recycling numbers” on the assumption that the presence of RICs indicates recyclability, which is not the case. In fact, RICs were never meant to be used as a consumer communication tool. They were developed to help waste handlers and recyclers easily identify and separate plastic materials by resin content. Clarifying Resin Identification Codes, increasing plastic film recyclability via store drop-off locations and familiarizing the public with their local recycling system remain important focus areas for the SPC and How2Recycle in upcoming years.

The feedback received from consumers, brand owners, organizations, governments and municipalities is extremely valuable to the How2Recycle Label as it continues to develop and grow. In fact, it is survey feedback that helps to shape our program goals for the next years. Case in point, the confusion over RICs and our new focus on clearing up some of that confusion!


Kelly Lahvic is the research and outreach associate for GreenBlue. For additional information about GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition and the How2Recycle Label, visit www.sustainablepackaging.org and www.how2recycle.info.

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