A Plan to Make Product Recycling Labels Less Misleading

A pilot program being implemented by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition could eventually revolutionize the confusing world of product recycling labels. Current packaging labels can be misleading to consumers, resulting in non-recyclable materials ending up in recycling bins.

The recycling arrows label stamped on the bottom of a plastic yogurt container is not detailed enough to accurately inform the consumer of how to sustainably dispose of the product. Because of the recycling market, some communities may accept that plastic yogurt container, and others may not. Therefore, a more specific label is needed.

The phrase “Please Recycle” on the cover of a spiral bound notebook does not address the differing materials (metal spiral, paper, rigid plastic front and chipboard back) that make up the notebook. Like the spiral bound notebook, most products are comprised of several different materials. Some of the materials may be recyclable, and some may not. The pilot program’s plan to mark each component of a package with the appropriate recycling label will better inform consumers. More detailed labeling is needed to make recycling more attractive to consumers and to make the recycling industry more efficient.

With the participation of about 10 major brands, more detailed labeling is exactly what this voluntary pilot program will work to achieve. The labels “widely recycled,” “not recyclable” or “limited recycling- check locally” will be used to classify products. The “store drop-off” label on plastic bags, the “recycle if clean & dry” label on plastic film and the “empty and replace cap” on plastic bottles will certainly reduce ambiguity for consumers and encourage them to increase their recycling participation. Click here to take a look at the current label designs. Hopefully, this pilot program will move quickly to a universal labeling system.

If you spot one of these labels on a product, let us know!


Mike Verespej

May 25

Waste & Recycling News

Crain Communications, Inc.


Sustainable Packaging Coalition



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