MAY 2019 IN

The “Not Recyclable” Label

Recycling would be easier if municipal recycling programs collected more materials that can be recycled and fewer that cannot be. It’s not an easy thing to ask because these determinations have to be made by consumers who may know little or nothing about materials and they some of them are recycled. One new approach that grocery manufacturers are trying is a recycling legend that lists the major pieces of a food package and tells which parts are or are not recyclable.

The recycling legend shown here, for example, asks the consumer to recycle the box but to throw away the tray and the plastic seal that covers it. This information, to the extent that consumers notice it, helps keep non-recyclable materials out of the recycling collections.

recycling legend

Until now, recycling indicators have only marked plastic items that are considered recyclable. The new labels mention those items but also mention paper items that might be eligible for recycling and mixed or miscellaneous materials that shouldn’t be offered for recycling.

The recycling legends are optimistic by design. Some of the recyclable materials they mention might not be accepted for recycling in many locations, and paper items may not be suitable for recycling if they are exposed to food in the food preparation process.

Still, the items marked as non-recyclable can be thrown away without any guesswork on the consumer’s part, and that can take some away of the uncertainty when someone is sorting out the trash left at the end of a meal.

It is too soon to say whether this kind of recycling labeling, which currently can be seen on less than 1 percent of food packages, will make a big difference in improving recycling flows. What is clear is that the current system, which often has consumers guessing what should and should not be recycled, is not working well enough.

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