Garbage Maven: Look for a new, improved recycling label

This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

Anyone who tries to do the right thing and recycle has experienced it: the utter confusion that certain products induce with their packaging. But a new label tries to address the vague and oftentimes misleading recycling messages.

The How2Recycle label, pioneered by the nonprofit environmental group GreenBlue, will soon appear on Yoplait yogurt packs, Aveda acne pads, Orville Redenbacher popcorn and a few other brand-name products as part of a pilot program to reduce consumer confusion and to encourage more recycling.


The new label is based on the On-Pack Recycling Label used in Britain and can include up to four icons indicating if a material is widely recycled (such as cardboard), recycled in limited cases (such as Yoplait’s plastic yogurt cups), not yet recycled (such as mylar) or requires store drop-off (the case in many cities for plastic grocery bags).

Sealed Air, the inflatable packaging company whose air cushions you probably have seen in the boxes of your Internet purchases, is among the first to use the store drop-off label. General Mills will use a combination of icons on its Yoplait fridge pack for a six-month test run beginning next month. ‘This is a real opportunity to simplify recycling communications for consumers. Our hope is that in the process it will encourage more recycling of the product,’ said Jerry Lynch, chief sustainability officer at General Mills, adding that the company plans to improve the footprint of 40% of its packaging by 2015. Yoplait, which comes in a plastic cup and a foil top, was selected because the fridge pack is ‘a package with several different recycling qualifications, so it’s a pretty good test of this communication vehicle,’ Lynch said.

Many products are already labeled with a chasing-arrows symbol, which indicates what type of plastic it is made from, not that it is recyclable. It wasn’t intended for consumers but recyclers, said senior manager at GreenBlue, which is based in Charlottesville, Va. [Updated June 14, 11:25 a.m.: The original version of this post stated the chasing-arrows symbol indicated a product’s recyclability.]

Almost 200 government groups and member corporations with GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition, including Costco Wholesale, Microsoft, REI and Seventh Generation, came together to create the new label. Earlier this year, Seventh Generation added the label to a detergent bottle, and REI added it to 50 of its products, including Novara bike accessories. Costco will add it to many Kirkland Signature brand products.

‘We found there was a need for industry to communicate effectively with consumers on packaging recyclability,’ Bedarf said. ‘This is one piece of the puzzle. One label is not going to solve some of the cynicism and apathy we see from consumers, but it’s a key to sustainable business practice that will only become more important. We need to get consumers more involved and more confident.’

The city of Los Angeles said it diverts 65% of its trash from landfills. L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has said he would like that rate increased to 70% by 2013 and, eventually, to 100%.

Reaching the holy grail of zero waste, however, will take more than a label. ‘It involves everyone participating and being more conscious in the products they purchase and getting manufacturers to take more responsibility for the products they produce,’ said Reina Pereira, senior environmental engineer for L.A.'s Bureau of Sanitation. ‘This labeling system is definitely going to bring ease and simplicity to the consumer because it more specifically talks about the product and the components of the product that are and aren’t recyclable.’


Can I Recycle series

Why recycling in Los Angeles is so complicated

Throwing recycling and trash in one bin works for some cities

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo, top: How2Recycle label. Credit: GreenBlue

Photo, middle: Yoplait fridge pack. Credit: General Mills

Photo, bottom: Chasing arrows symbol. Credit: