FAQ

Taking Action

How do I check locally?

There are several ways to determine if a package is recycled in your area. These include contacting and checking the website of your trash hauler, town, city, or county. Many retail stores also offer drop-off programs, and there are a variety of websites that direct consumers to recycling outlets. See the Check Locally section on our main page for more information.

Recyclability

Why can’t I just place plastic bags in my recycling bin?

Plastic bags are rarely accepted in municipal recycling programs. They often cause equipment problems at recycling facilities. However, a significant number of retailers operate drop-off sites for plastic bags, and many also accept films and wraps (also made out of polyethylene). For this reason, we created the “Store Drop-Off” label for plastic bags and films. More information can be found on the Recyclability Reference page.

Which materials fall into the different recyclability categories?

To find out which materials are categorized as “Widely Recycled”, “Limited Recycling – Check Locally”, “Not Yet Recycled”, and “Store Drop-off”, see the Recyclability Reference Chart.

How did you decide which materials fall in to the different categories?

The categories of “Widely Recycled”, “Limited Recycling – Check Locally”, “Not Yet Recycled” and “Store Drop-Off” are based on national-level recycling access data. The categories correspond to requirements outlined in the Federal Trade Commission’s “Green Guides”, which provide guidance on recyclability claims.

What happens to my materials once they are recycled?

Check out Keep America Beautiful’s “I Want to be Recycled” campaign to learn about journey that recyclable materials go through.

Scope of the Label

My state/city/county recycles different materials than our neighbors. Shouldn’t the label categories be adjusted for regional variations?

The How2Recycle Label Program is based on nationwide data on access to recycling. Though data exist that show regional variations, products are typically produced and distributed for large regions or even the country as a whole. This makes labeling for regional variations virtually impossible. This is why we see packages with information on, for instance, state-specific bottle deposit refunds on packages sold across the country.

How will compostable materials be labeled?

Compostability is not included in the How2Recycle Label, because industrial composting is not available to the majority of communities, and also because the Biodegradable Products Institute/US Composting Council has an existing labeling system based on ASTM standards. For example, if a bio-based, compostable plastic was to carry the How2Recycle Label, it would carry a “Not Yet Recycled” label and ideally be placed next to the certified compostable label.

What do local governments need to do to prepare for the How2Recycle Label?

Local governments will need to be prepared for questions they already typically get from residents about their recycling options. Questions are likely to include what items they can recycle (especially items marked “Check Locally”), curbside recycling services, and drop-off recycling locations. Our consumer research shows that consumers will seek out this information primarily via websites, related literature, and phone calls. We are working with a few local governments (for example, New York City’s Dept. of Sanitation) to provide content on their websites and to ensure we are getting feedback from this important group. Please contact us if you are interested in providing this information to your residents.

How does this impact other labels and recycling symbols, including the plastic numbers or Resin Identification Codes (RICs)?

The intent of this label is to provide a harmonized labeling system across material types. Several other label types exist, but none of these labels communicate recyclability across all material types nor give directions to consumers. Other labels, often termed “ecolabels”, are intended to make it easy for consumers to take environmental concerns into account when shopping; however, not all of these green claims can be trusted. Helpful resources for determining the legitimacy of green claims and ecolabels include Greenerchoices.org and Ecolabelindex.org.

RICs are a plastic labeling system that includes chasing arrows surrounding a number, with an abbreviation such as “HDPE.” The RICs indicate what type of plastic the item is made of. They are commonly used to tell consumers what to recycle; for example, a curbside recycling program may tell their residents “all #1 and #2 plastics”. However, RICs were never intended to be a consumer communication tool.

They are not an indicator of recyclability, which is a very common misconception. Multiple studies show the RICs to be confusing; consumers think they mean anything from recycled content to degree of popularity. The How2Recycle Label’s intent is to replace the RICs as a consumer communication and education tool, but not replace them totally. The use of RICs are dictated by laws in 39 states as well as an ASTM International standard that is undergoing a revision process.

What was the role of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the creation of the How2Recycle Label?

GreenBlue and its Sustainable Packaging Coalition consulted with the FTC over the development phase of this labeling system. The FTC provided feedback on the label design, consumer testing results, and our research. This feedback is not binding, nor is it a formal review. The FTC does not approve claims, so formal approval of the How2Recycle Label System was not an option.

The recyclability categories (widely recycled, limited recycling/check locally, and not yet recycled) were created in alignment with the FTC’s Green Guides.

Who else did you work with during the creation of the How2Recycle Label?

The How2Recycle Label was created by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), which is a project of the non-profit GreenBlue. The SPC is an industry working group of approx.190 member companies with a professional staff. The How2Recycle Label came to fruition under the guidance of a Project Team comprised of staff, interested members, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and a consultant directly involved in the recycling industry.

In addition, GreenBlue staff consulted with the Federal Trade Commission and a variety of stakeholders including recyclers, state & local governments, and designers. The How2Recycle Label is modeled after a similar system in the United Kingdom known as OPRL. The OPRL staff provides ongoing information on their system in the UK. Read more about our contributors.

How was the How2Recycle Label tested with consumers?

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition, through generous SPC member donations of staff time and resources, conducted three qualitative consumer tests, both in-person and on-line. This helped refine the label design. We then hired MAi Research to conduct a large-scale, quantitative consumer test.

Will this recycling label cause more confusion?

The goal of this label is to reduce confusion among consumers. Consumers have responded that they value the transparent instruction provided by the label. Feedback from consumer testing and the Federal Trade Commission were also incorporated in to the label design.

As a new labeling system, the How2Recycle Label may have a learning curve. Our belief is that consumers will either seek to understand the label and become acquainted immediately, or see the label repeatedly and become accustomed to the recycling instructions. We hope that repeated exposure will make the label second nature to consumers.

Won’t the “not yet recycled” category have a negative impact on recycling and purchasing behaviors?

Testing showed that consumers value clear and transparent labeling and instructions, even if the label indicates “not yet recycled”. The consumer is buying the product, not the packaging, and consumers generally want to know how to do the right thing with the packaging. One particular benefit of the “not yet recycled” label is for parts of a package that contains multiple components, where previously only the widely recycled component was labeled. Consumers will be instructed on which items can and cannot be recycled, keeping the recycling stream cleaner and free of contaminants.

Labeling as “not yet recycled” means that less than 20 percent of the US population has access to recycling that material. Consumers in some communities may have access to recycling that item even though the label indicates otherwise. In all instances, communities need to remain vigilant about communicating recyclability. Consumers should ultimately follow what their community or recycling hauler communicates to them.

How are you measuring success?

The goals of the How2Recycle Label are:

  • Reduce confusion by creating a clear, well-understood, and harmonized label that enables industry to convey to consumers how to recycle a package after its use.
  • Improve the reliability, completeness, and transparency of recyclability claims through a nationally relevant data set on access to recycling for all packaging materials and forms.
  • Provide incentive for industry to participate in a pre-competitive labeling initiative that follows FTC Green Guides.

Success will be measured through survey feedback from consumers, retailers, participating companies, local governments, and any other interested parties, with a specific focus on consumer understanding & behavior.

Participants

When did the project start?

Labels first appeared on packages in January, 2012. This launch followed several years of research, development and design.

Who will be carrying the label on their products?

You can find a list of participating companies here.

What packages currently carry the label?

You can find a photo gallery of a selection of packages carrying the label here.

Other Labels

Resin Identification Codes (RICs)

RICs are a plastic labeling system that includes chasing arrows surrounding a number, with an abbreviation such as “HDPE.” The RICs indicate what type of plastic the item is made of. They are commonly used to tell consumers what to recycle; for example, a curbside recycling program may tell their residents “all #1 and #2 plastics”. However, RICs were never intended to be a consumer communication tool.

They are not an indicator of recyclability, which is a very common misconception. Multiple studies show the RICs to be confusing; consumers think they mean anything from recycled content to degree of popularity. The How2Recycle Label’s intent is to replace the RICs as a consumer communication and education tool, but not replace them totally. The use of RICs are dictated by laws in 39 states as well as an ASTM International standard that is undergoing a revision process.

Biodegradable Products Institute/US Composting Council

The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) and the US Composting Council (USCC) joined together to create the “Compostable” label.  Products bearing this logo must pass ASTM standard D6400 and/or D6868.  The purpose of the label is to identify products and packaging that are suitable for commercial composting operations. Biodegradable plastics may bear this logo.

Paperboard Packaging

The Paperboard Packaging Recyclable logo is a material-specific logo created to articulate that paperboard packaging is recyclable.  The Paperboard Packaging Council (PPC) developed their logo to promote recycling of paperboard. The PPC gives guidance on the logo website on who may use the logo and how. It cannot be used on corrugated material or any paperboard that does not meet Federal Trade Commission Green Guides requirements on recycling access (for example, used pizza boxes). The logo is free for use with a signed license agreement.

Corrugated Recycles

The Corrugated Recycles logo was created to indicate that a corrugated container is recyclable. The Corrugated Packaging Alliance (CPA) developed the symbol to promote corrugated container recycling. There are several iterations of the label, giving producers options for their packaging.  There are also separate designs for corrugated containers that have been treated with moisture protection with wax alternatives that have past repulpability and recyclability testing protocol. CPA also allows the symbol to be used on materials that promote corrugated recycling, such as websites.

Glass Recycles

The Glass Recycles logo, or recycling “G”, is a material specific logo created to indicate that a container is made from recycled glass and can also be recycled. The Glass Packaging Institute (GPI) developed the logo, which is free to use.  Use of the logo does not require permission from GPI, and can be altered in color, size, or location on the product.

The Green Dot (Der Grüne Punkt)

The Green Dot system is a European product stewardship scheme that started in Germany. Under certain European directives, companies that create a product with packaging are required to recover that packaging.  This scheme allows companies to pay in to a recovery system to fulfill their obligations. Those that pay in to the system place the Green Dot symbol on their packaging. Consumers may see the symbol in green and white, two shades of green, or black and white. The symbol does not represent recyclability. The symbol is found in the United States since some products are sold in Europe as well as domestically. The recovery scheme does not operate in the United States, so the funds do not go to domestic recycling or recovery programs.

Tidy Man

The Tidy Man logo is an initiative of Keep Britain Tidy, an English environmental charity devoted to litter prevention and clean up. The logo is not a communicator of recyclability.  It is free for download and use for anti-litter campaigns.