A Universal Recycling System?

June 29, 2011

How do you know if the package you just bought or manufactured can or will be recycled? You don't, but the SPC is creating a universal recycling system.

How do you know if the clamshell housing your lettuce (whether you buy or manufacture it) will be recycled? You certainly don’t, but a new system, The Labeling for Recovery Project, created by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), launching in early July, aims to clear up the recycling confusion. Their goal is to do away with the unreadable number codes on the bottom of plastic packages – that you need a pamphlet to decode - and create a simpler system that is a more inviting and a less intimidating way to get consumers and companies to recycle. The Lempert Report supports any unified effort aimed at making recycling more accessible for consumers, retailers and CPG manufacturers.
Currently recovery-related messaging and the associated icons, such as "please recycle" and "100 percent recyclable," give the false impression that a package can be recycled everywhere. 
The SPC is currently finalizing preparations for the pilot of the labeling system, which will include on-package labeling of approximately 10 brand packages (SPC members only for the pilot phase).
Consumer and other stakeholder education via the website.
Education via select municipalities.
Evaluation of the pilot through Q4 2012, after which non-SPC members will be able to use the label.
The SPC’s system classifies four types of packaging:
Widely recycled: packaging materials such as glass, cardboard, PET plastic bottles which are recycled in most communities.
Limited recycling: materials that are only recycled in 20 to 60 percent of the U.S., such as polypropylene yogurt containers.
Not recycled: materials that are rarely recycled, such as Styrofoam.
Store drop-off: category for the bags and plastic film that are often collected by grocery stores for recycling.
Another one of the benefits of the system is that the labels are not mutually exclusive; a single product might carry several lables, depending on its packaging. For instance, a box of crackers may carry both a "widely recycled" label (for the cardboard box), and a "limited recycling" label (for the inner plastic bag).
Some member companies of the SPC will start testing the new labels this fall, as part of a pilot project extending through 2012 with the hope that it becomes a universal label. 
The Sustainable Packaging Coalition, consists of more than 200 companies, including some of the country's biggest manufacturers and retailers, including Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, FedEx, and Estee Lauder.