Green Label Guide: The How2Recycle Label

A package with a How2Recycle Label. Photo:

A package with a How2Recycle Label. Photo:

Think every piece of food and product packaging that bears the chasing arrows recycling symbol can be tossed in the blue bin? It's a common misconception.

While these items are technically recyclable, they may not be accepted in every recycling program. This can cause confusion and frustration among consumers and may even lead some to skip recycling altogether.

For example, a container made from plastic #5 (polypropylene) may bear the chasing arrows symbol no matter where it's sold — making people believe that they can recycle it, even if their community's curbside recycling program accepts only PET and HDPE plastics.

To clear up the chasing arrows confusion once and for all, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition — an industry working group dedicated to environmentally friendly packaging — developed its How2Recycle Label, a straightforward label that gives consumers detailed information about the packaging materials and their proper disposal.

A How2Recycle Label includes recycling information for each element of a package. Photo:

A How2Recycle Label includes recycling information for each element of a package. Photo:

The How2Recycle Label program finished its soft launch in 2013 and now has more than 20 participating companies and brands. You may have already noticed the label on products from top names like REI, Kellogg's, Minute Maid and Seventh Generation.

In easy-to-understand language, the label breaks down what material each piece of packaging is made from and how to recycle it. For example, the label for an HDPE plastic pouch identifies the package as a plastic bag and suggests store drop-off locations as the most prevalent recycling solution. It also advises consumers to make sure the bags are clean and dry before recycling.

Labels on packaging with more than one material clearly identify the elements (such as the paper box and plastic overwrap) and provide recycling guidance for each element. Consumers are also directed to for more information.

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition hopes to make How2Recycle a nationally harmonized label that enables the industry to clearly convey to consumers how to recycle a package. The coalition set up a How2Join page to recruit more companies and hopes to have the label on the majority of consumer goods by 2016.

From the Vault: Top 10 Green Labels Guide

PET Recycling Rates Are on the Rise, But We Can Do More

According to the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) and The Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers, PET bottle recycling surpassed 30 percent for the first time in 2012. Photo: Flickr/zone41

According to the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) and The Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers, PET bottle recycling surpassed 30 percent for the first time in 2012. Photo: Flickr/zone41

The National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) and the The Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers (APR) recently released their “Report on Postconsumer PET Container Recycling Activity in 2012 (PDF),” which cites a 2012 U.S. recycling rate of 30.8 percent for PET plastic containers.

This is the first time PET bottle recycling has topped 30 percent in the U.S., up from 29.3 percent (PDF) in 2011. The total volume of post-consumer PET bottles collected was also the highest reported to date at 1.7 billion pounds.

“The increase in the PET recycling rate is clear evidence of continued strong, domestic end-market demand for recycled PET, and we believe there’s considerable scope for U.S. industry to readily absorb more recycled PET material if available," Tom Busard, chairman of both NAPCOR and APR, said in a press release. "This strong demand continues to drive domestic investment, and it fuels jobs and related economic growth."

Busard added that the report revealed significant increases in recycled PET use in fiber, sheet and film, and food and beverage bottles in the U.S. Another positive trend noted in the report is the increase in domestic reclaiming of PET bottles, with fewer bottles being exported to foreign markets.

Export volumes have been going down since a 2008 peak. The 2012 data reflects the lowest volume sold to export markets since 2005, and at 34 percent, the lowest percentage since 2001 relative to the total volume of PET collected.

Despite these encouraging numbers, NAPCOR and APR acknowledged ongoing industry challenges. While volumes were up in 2012, supply of recycled PET did not keep pace with demand.

The U.S. reclamation infrastructure has seen significant investment in recent years, with total 2012 capacity estimated at more than 2 billion pounds, but it continues to be underused. Domestic PET reclamation plants collectively are operating at only an estimated 63 percent of capacity, according to the report.

This revisits the common question of why people don't recycle and the best ways to increase diversion. Businesses and governments are testing out a number of solutions to increase recycling rates, from education initiatives to recycling rewards. So, keep an eye out for an uptick in these numbers moving forward, and don't forget to toss those plastic bottles in the blue bin!

Why Can This Bottle Be Recycled, But This One Can't?

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

Recycling can be confusing at times. Availability of recycling services varies greatly depending on where you live — and the material you're dealing with. Take something as simple as a lotion bottle or deodorant canister. They're both made from plastic, so it seems safe to assume any recycling program that accepts plastic will take these for recycling. Unfortunately, it's not so simple.

A number of factors affect whether a given material is recyclable in your area. Even when two containers look similar — such as a shampoo and lotion bottle — one may be recyclable while the other is not. Here are a few things to consider when trying to recycle products like these.

Study: People Don’t Recycle Damaged Goods

Is this crinkled ball of paper less likely to be recycled than a flat piece of paper? Photo: Flickr/Kate Ter Haar

Is this crinkled ball of paper less likely to be recycled than a flat piece of paper? Photo: Flickr/Kate Ter Haar

The U.S. recycling rate has risen by less than 6 percent in the past decade. This sad but true stat leaves many greenies wondering what’s stopping American consumers from blue-binning it more often.

A new study, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Consumer Research, seeks to answer this common question by looking beyond the typical scapegoats, like curbside recycling access and confusing plastic resin codes, and examining the thought process that leads consumers to toss recyclables in the trash.

The study’s authors, Jennifer Argo of the University of Alberta School of Business and Remi Trudel of Boston University, theorized that consumers are psychologically hardwired to believe that damaged or incomplete products — such as small or ripped paper and dented cans — are without value.

After testing their theory through a field study and four laboratory studies, the researchers found that once a recyclable item ceased to retain its whole form — whether a package that was cut open or a strip of paper torn from a whole piece — users demonstrated an alarming tendency to throw it in the garbage.

The process is seemingly autonomic, Argo says, and can only be overcome by helping consumers realize a product’s true value.

“We gave one group of participants a small piece of paper and asked them to do a creative writing task and just tell us what this paper could be useful for,” Argo said in a press release. “As soon as they did that, 80 percent of the time it went into the recycling. It was an automatic flip that it became useful to them again.”

So, how can this mind-set shift be accomplished on a large scale? Argo suggests that modifying product packaging design to preserve a whole and undamaged appearance after opening could yield surprisingly positive results.

“Make it easier to preserve the condition the package is actually in once it has been opened,” Argo said. “It might mean more expensive packaging because it’s a different type. I think it’s worth the investment because I have no doubt in my mind that people will recycle it to a greater extent than they currently do.”

What do you think? Are you more likely to recycle a whole piece of paper than a small scrap of packaging, or does this study miss the mark? Tell us about it in the comments.

American Cleaning Institute Comes Clean in Sustainability Report

Photo: pippalou

Photo: pippalou

U.S. cleaning product companies are getting a little cleaner, according to the 2013 Sustainability Report from the American Cleaning Institute.

ACI represents formulators of soaps, detergents and general cleaning products used in a variety of settings; companies that supply ingredients and finished packaging for these products; and oleochemical producers.

The association’s second-ever Sustainability Report details environmental metrics collected from 24 ACI member companies in four key areas: energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, water use and solid waste generation, all of which show overall decreases in impact. Only those companies who contributed data in 2009, 2010 and 2011 were included in the report.

Specifically, from 2009 to 2011, energy use decreased 9 percent, greenhouse gas emissions decreased 7 percent, water use decreased 5 percent and solid waste generation decreased 17 percent.

ACI began aggregating data in 2009 with the assistance of sustainability consultancy firm Environmental Resources Management and reported publicly in their first Sustainability Report in 2011. Members are invited to report annually on sustainability metrics in accordance with a protocol closely aligned with the performance indicators of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Data is aggregated and normalized per metric ton of production in order to better understand how the cleaning products industry is progressing.

"As an organization representing the cleaning product supply chain, we are proud of our industry’s progress in sustainability and transparency," wrote Ernie Rosenberg, ACI President and CEO in the Report. "We continue to build the pathway for all ACI member companies to showcase sustainability successes and challenges that are integral to doing business in today’s marketplace."

Highlighting Efforts to Improve Product Safety, Enhance Public Health
ACI’s Sustainability Report also reviews industry efforts to improve product safety and transparency, through such initiatives as the ACI Cleaning Product Ingredient Inventory and iSTREEM, a web-based computer model which forecasts chemical concentrations in U.S. waterways.

The Report also portrays how ACI partnerships expand educational efforts on the safe, proper and beneficial use of cleaning and hygiene products. Other ACI collaborative efforts with organizations like Clean the World and Cleaning for a Reason are profiled, describing how soaps and cleaning products are used to help those in need.

“Cleaning and hygiene products play such a critical role in enhancing health in our everyday lives,” says Brian Sansoni, ACI’s Vice President of Sustainability Initiatives. “The Report provides snapshots of how strategic partnerships work to assist schools, communities, health professionals and the non-profit community.”

Stories of Sustainability
A key feature of ACI’s online Sustainability Report presents Stories of Sustainability from more than 30 ACI member companies.

“ACI member companies are committed to increasing sustainability and demonstrating corporate social responsibility,” Sansoni says. “Readers can learn more about those individual efforts in our online showcase.”

Read the Stories of Sustainability, and the full report on the American Cleaning Institute's website.

Editor’s Note: Earth911 partners with many industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory, the largest in the nation, which is provided to consumers at no cost. The American Cleaning Institute is one of these partners.

How to Avoid Greenwashing

As consciousness has risen when it comes to the health of the environment, businesses have responded en masse by offering more eco-friendly products, services and policies — or at least, they say they have.

Greenwashing is a term used for companies that claim to be — but in reality are not — acting in an environmentally responsible way. It was first used in print by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986 in reference to hotels that encouraged guests to reuse towels to benefit the Earth but that in turn didn't recycle if it didn't save money.

A whopping 95 percent of products are greenwashed. So how can you tell what's real and what's not? Here, TerraChoice Environmental Marketing (now part of UL) offers some tips, along with a handy primer on just what to be on the lookout for:

Greenwashing Infographic