How2Recycle Label Standardizes What is ‘Recyclable’ for Consumers

This article by GreenBlue Project Associate Danielle Peacock appeared in this month’s issue of Packaging Digest, which features a monthly column by GreenBlue staff on packaging sustainability. Read the original article.

In May 2012, GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) announced that five new companies joined the soft launch of the How2Recycle Label, a voluntary recycling labeling system developed by the SPC to provide clear recycling information to consumers, while conforming to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) “Green Guides.”

SPC members General Mills (Yoplait), Esteé Lauder Companies (Aveda) and Sealed Air, as well as additional participants BJ’s Wholesale Club and manufacturer Ampac, have joined the soft launch. These companies join SPC members ConAgra Foods, Costco Wholesale, Microsoft, REI and Seventh Generation in introducing the label over the course of the soft launch, which will last through early 2013. May’s announcement also included endorsements by the state of North Carolina, New York City’s Department of Sanitation, StopWaste.Org (Alameda County, CA) and Keep America Beautiful.

Companies using the How2Recycle Label have shown leadership in advancing recycling initiatives, are willing to demonstrate transparency to consumers and eventually will contribute to cleaner recycling streams. Feedback and consumer testing show that consumers value this transparency and will still purchase a product that includes the “Not Yet Recycled” version of the label.

Consumers are faced with an array of labels in the market that are often misleading or incomplete. According to Ecolabel Index, there are more than 430 different eco-labels currently available globally. Despite this confusion, consumers still want to see on-package instructions for recycling. A study by Mintel shows that consumers are more interested in seeing recycling information than fat, sugar and calorie content on packaging.

A nationwide recycling label must account for regional variations in recycling programs while considering the nationwide (and in many cases, global) nature of product distribution. The result for the How2Recycle Label was the creation of a tiered labeling system and a corresponding website (, guiding consumer action.

If an item is in the “Widely Recycled” category, more than 60 percent of the U.S. population has access to recycling for that package. If an item is labeled “Check Locally,” between 20 and 60 percent of the U.S. population has access to recycling for that package. Any item that can only be recycled by less than 20 percent of the U.S. population is in the “Not Yet Recycled” label category.

Consumer testing also shows that all versions of the How2Recycle Label stimulate interest in recycling. We look forward to seeing how these research findings play out in the marketplace.

When the “Check Locally” version of the label is used, our goal is to direct consumers to action with the website, which helps consumers become familiar with their local options.

The How2Recycle Label will not solve all recycling problems, but it is an important piece of the puzzle. To move recycling forward, we must improve infrastructure, develop recycling markets, encourage and increase the use of recycled content, and continue to educate and combat cynicism. Feedback in this phase of the How2Recycle soft launch has been overwhelmingly positive, and we look forward to further stakeholder engagement and consumer feedback as we look towards widespread implementation in 2013.

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