Consumers know the ubiquitous three-arrow recycling icon. But that icon can be misleading, as not all communities take packaging marked with it, and many recyclable materials are not labeled.
How2Recycle is trying to clear up confusion about what can be recycled where, and how, by creating a more thorough, nationally harmonized, on-package label. The traditional recycling symbol with a number in the center was developed decades ago as a way for manufacturers to communicate with recycling facilities or reprocessors, the organization says. This one is designed specifically for consumers.
"Fifty-seven percent of consumers look to a product's packaging first for recycling information, before looking elsewhere," says project manager Kelly Cramer. "This data suggests that having a recycling label like How2Recycle on package is important to triggering correct recycling behavior, because it's where people look for direction."
The effort is a project of GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a nonprofit membership group working to improve packaging sustainability and the public’s understanding of it. Several natural brands including WhiteWave Foods, Seventh Generation and Happy Family Brands, as well as conventional brands such as Clorox and Kellogg's, are members and display How2Recycle labels on their packages.
These labels contain three components: information on how to prepare the package for recycling, what the recyclable material is made from, and what parts of the packaging needs to be recycled in the specified way.
The label pictured at right, for example, communicates that part of the packaging can be recycled, and other parts cannot or may only be recyclable in certain locations. Consumers can find more information about their local programs at how2recycle.info. “Our program places emphasis on people getting to know their local systems by checking with their community’s recycling program,” Cramer adds.
Retailers can join the movement, too, by becoming members and using the labels on their store brand products. “Another fantastic thing that retailers can do is become a Wrap Recycling Action Plan retail champion or partner,” Cramer says. “WRAP is a program of the American Chemistry Council’s Flexible Film Recycling Group, and they help retailers establish plastic bag and film collection points in stores to align with How2Recycle’s Store Drop-Off label, and provide additional educational outreach tools.”
Or, simply bringing awareness to staff and customers about recycling could make a difference. "In order to change behavior, you have to get specific, make it easy and trigger the behavior," Cramer says. "The How2Recycle label does all three things: we tell exactly how to recycle something on our label; we don't get too complicated or detailed in our labels either, which makes it easy; and our label being on package where the consumer sees it is a trigger for the recycling behavior to occur."