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How2Recycle label is growing—here’s who, why and how

How2Recycle label is growing—here’s who, why and how
How2Reycle draws in brand participation by making it easy for consumers to clearly understand how and what portions of the packaging can be recycled and includes any special instruction using standardized guidelines.

The latest news on the How2Recycle labeling program for sustainably recyclable packaging that’s expanding at a rate of 80 new products daily.

Since its launch in 2012, the How2Recycle program managed by the sustainability leaders at GreenBlue has followed a four-point set of guidelines: 

  • Reduce confusion by creating a clear, well-understood, and nationally harmonized label that enables companies to convey to consumers how to recycle a package.
  • Improve the reliability, completeness, and transparency of recyclability claims.
  • Provide a labeling system that follows Federal Trade Commission Green Guides.
  • Increase the availability and quality of recycled material.

Accolades for the initiative include, among others, 2018 recognition as a Finalist in MIT Climate CoLab's contest Shifting Attitudes and Behaviors to Address Climate Change.

Notably, the program has also been highly successful in the market, drawing well-recognized brands including General Mills, Hasbro, Nestlé, Target, Wal-Mart and dozens more.

Kelly Cramer, who leads the How2Recycle efforts, provides a state-of-the-program update in this exclusive interview.

What’s been the overall growth?

Cramer: The How2Recycle program has experienced significant growth in recent years. In 2018, the number of brand owners and retailers in How2Recycle grew by 45% to 120. It doesn’t hurt that global megatrends like circular economy, transparency, and the rise of the ethical consumer align with the value of the How2Recycle label. The surge of ambitious packaging recyclability targets and the urgency for guidance to know how to meet those goals has also drawn increased interest to How2Recycle. Additionally, we notice peer pressure among brands beginning to take a stronger foothold; brands don’t want to be “left out” or “left behind” by their competitors, and so have embraced the voluntary collective movement of How2Recycle.

In what product segments are you seeing the most activity?

Cramer: Food and beverage continues to be the strongest product segment featuring the How2Recycle label and growth there continues; recent additions include Keurig Dr Pepper and the JM Smucker Company. We are also seeing a notable upward trend in personal care with newer members like Beautycounter and Johnson & Johnson. Other categories expanding with new members include:

  • Apparel where new member PVH which joins REI;
  • Electronics where Sonos joins Verizon;
  • Quick-Serve Restaurants where Starbucks joins McDonald’s; and
  • Toys where Mattel and LEGO join Hasbro.

Somewhat surprisingly, interest has jumped among trendier, smaller startups and direct-to-consumer brands. LovePop Cards, Rael feminine care and Hatch Beauty are examples of new members that are in the direct-to-consumer space.

We expect growth of How2Recycle on retailers’ private brands to continue as well.


Can you quantify the success of the How2Recycle label?  

Cramer: How2Recycle has been around since 2012 and is on tens of thousands of products in the marketplace. More and more packages featuring the label hit shelves every year. After the launch of the new How2Recycle Member Platform in the last year, we were able to track that 20,796 new products were issued a How2Recycle label, which is roughly 80 new products a day—and the volume of requests for labels is growing each month.

How many different label types have been created? Are more forthcoming?

Cramer: There are more than 1,200 unique How2Recycle labels in the marketplace that each cater to a unique packaging format. This is because we tell the consumer how to recycle or dispose of all components of a package, not just one component, so we need many different How2Recycle labels to accommodate the diversity of packaging types.

The How2Recycle label started in the United States, but is now available for Canada. Interest from brand owners and retailers for labels in that marketplace is growing.

How2Compost is the complement to the How2Recycle label; brands with Biodegradable Products Institute-certified packaging can communicate compostability of packaging to the consumer alongside any relevant recyclability claims.

How2Recycle is currently scoping international opportunities for expansion of the label, though we already developed French labels for brands that sell in Canada in the market currently.

What interest are you seeing for flexible packaging? And what are the particular challenges for this highly popular format?

Cramer: Flexible plastic packaging is surging in popularity. The vast majority of pouches are multi-material, multi-layer, and thus not recyclable—the only type of flexible packaging that is recyclable is polyethylene film that qualifies for the How2Recycle Store Drop-Off label. For this reason, all-PE pouches are starting to become popular among our members. As brands continue to set and try to reach goals for packaging to have a lower carbon footprint but also be recyclable, more and more interest will turn towards these packaging solutions.

Right now, we’re at the edge of the frontier in terms of what material manufacturers and packaging converters are developing for PE films in order to protect the product, but also still allow it to feature the Store Drop-Off label.

Lastly, what’s a misconception people may have about the program?

Cramer: The biggest misconception is that How2Recycle is only a label for packaging—in reality, it’s a lot more than that. The How2Recycle Member Platform helps brands track, measure and improve the recyclability of their packaging portfolio so they can meet their goals. We issued 32,988 specific recommendations for packaging design changes to improve recyclability to our members in a little over the last year. We tell a brand not only where they stand with recyclability of their packaging today, but how to change it to better fit into the recycling system in the future.

For more information, visit How2Recycle.

For more insights from Kelly Cramer, see also:

How the 4th Industrial Revolution will impact packaging, part 1

How the 4th Industrial Revolution will impact packaging, part 2


You’ll find a generous amount of packaging options at PackEx Toronto June 4-6, 2019 where you can evaluate the latest solutions from robotics to semi-automatic equipment and search out fresh ideas in containers and design plus join in free education at Centre Stage. For more information, visit PackEx Toronto. ___________________________________________________________________________________

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