Americans are getting better at recycling. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported that the nation’s overall recycling rate reached 34.5% in 2012, more than double the 1990 rate. Nevertheless, according to research by the Ad Council, today only 55% of Americans say that they are “very” or “extremely” knowledgeable about how to properly recycle packages and other materials. Even fewer (44%) identify themselves as “avid” recyclers.
Would it help if recyclable packages carried instructions telling consumers how to do it? The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) thought so, and that is why the group launched the How2Recycle Label program two years ago. Since then, the idea has gained traction with some of the nation’s leading producers of consumer packaged goods.
The labels, affixed voluntarily to glass, metal, paper, corrugated, plastic, and multi-layer containers, indicate how recyclable the packages are and offer simple tips for making sure they are recovered properly. The goal is to create an easy-to-understand, nationally harmonized label that helps brand owners and others in the packaging chain teach consumers to be better recyclers.
During a “soft launch” with 12 participating companies in 2012, the How2Recycle Label appeared on more than 50 million packages and received significant media coverage and social media exposure. Today the program has the support of 29 participating companies including General Mills, Kellogg, ConAgra, and Coca Cola. A recent joiner is the ShopRite supermarket chain, which will place the label on paper and plastic carry-out bags in all 250 of its stores.
SPC, part of the GreenBlue environmental coalition, hopes to see the How2Recycle Label appear on the majority of consumer goods packaging by 2016. In a 2013 annual report on the program, GreenBlue estimated that over 7,000 stock keeping units (SKUs) carried the How2Recycle Label on over 100 million packages that were either on shelves or were previously purchased by consumers.
It will take more than labels to increase U.S. recycling awareness to a point where it rivals the commitment to recycling in other countries. Germany, for example, landfills only 1% of its waste, a goal that might seem unattainable here. But, the How2Recycle Label is a much-needed visual cue in the right place at the right time. Hats off to SPC and GreenBlue for making it easier to identify packaging with sustainability.