The Sustainable Packaging Coalition is getting ready to launch a voluntary labeling pilot program that it hopes will increase recycling of all packaging materials and eliminate confusion often caused by resin identification codes.
We are working on the finalized design, said Anne Bedarf, an SPC project manager. We plan to launch the pilot this fall with about 10 major brands and some private-label brands used by retailers.
SPC, a working group of more than 200 brand owners, resin companies, processors and retailers, is a project of GreenBlue, a Charlottesville, Va., nonprofit organization focused on sustainability implementation.
Bedarf said only SPC members will be able to use the labels on their products until late 2012, but the goal is to open the program to others after that.
Our hope is to have it become a universal label, Bedarf said. We see it as similar to the nutritional label on foods because it will be non-biased and reflect current recycling ability.
Labels are quite a confusing landscape for the consumer [with] well-meaning, but not often useful, messaging like 'please recycle' and '100 percent recyclable,' she said. They also don't provide additional instruction related to the local nature of recycling.
The consumer becomes responsible for properly sending a package through the recovery system, she said. Increasingly, they are looking to industry to make packaging recyclable and provide instruction on what really is recyclable, and what is not.
Companies will pay a fee to use the label, with proceeds used to cover the data management, administrative costs and to make needed updates particularly as to what products qualify for what type of label.
Bedarf said the types of packaging that will use the labels in the pilot program will cover a broad range of items mostly things you would buy at a grocery store.
The initiative, three years in development, is modeled after a program used on 90 percent of products sold in grocery stores and by more than 100 companies, Bedarf said.
The labels will classify packaging either as widely recycled, not recyclable or with limited recycling meaning consumers need to check locally to see whether it is recycled in their area. The labels will not address recycled content.
The not recyclable label will have a black diagonal line through a chasing-arrows icon. Labels for packaging with limited recycling will have the phrase, limited recycling in the center of that icon and the phrase, check locally, in a box above the icon. The icons also will identify material, for example, as a paper or plastic container.
Plastic bags and films will have the phrase store drop-off in the center of the chasing arrows icon, and the phrase recycle if clean & dry in a box above the icon. Plastic bottles will have the phrase, empty and replace cap in a box above the chasing arrows icon.
This is an effort to create a harmonized system that applies to all materials and to move away from resin identification codes because a lot of people think RIC codes mean an item is recyclable and that is not always the case, Bedarf said. Municipalities and local and state officials tell us that there is no question that people find the RIC codes confusing and that it causes significant consumer confusion.
What level of recyclability a package receives will depend on what percentage of the population has access to recycle that package.
Each component of a package will have separate labels, except for some caps and closures, where the label will ask the consumer to please rinse and replace on the package, said Bedarf.
For an item to qualify for a widely recyclable label, 60 percent of the population must be able to recycling it; the limited label will be for 20-60 percent. That will be where the big swatch of plastics lies, she said.
Because the classifications will be by type of product, not type of resin, plastic items made from the same resin such as PET bottles and thermoformed PET containers can, and are likely to have different labels. There is a difference in the reach of [access to] recycling programs for PET bottles and PET thermoform containers and we need to know that and address that, she said.
To get the data we needed at that type of granular level was one of the obstacles, said Bedarf. But she said SPC is working with the plastics division of the Washington-based American Chemistry Council to determine by year's end what portion of the U.S. population has access to recycling different plastic items.
Before the pilot program starts, Bedarf said the group will launch in mid-June an educational website, www.REstarttheCYCLE.com.
To augment that, Bedarf said the Washington-based Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers is developing an educational campaign on how to recycle without the numbers.
We hope this voluntary labeling program will help the industry communicate with a common language, and reduce the time and cost of vetting claims in-house, Bedarf said.
The program states its goals include reducing confusion by creating a clear, well-understood and harmonized label that enables industry to convey to consumers how to recycle a package.
Bednar said, We also think the packaging labels will help corporations recycle more efficiently and help them with their social responsibility efforts because of the educational aspect.
She continued, Although it would be difficult to link an increase in recycling rates with a label we are hoping that, coupled with everything else, it will be a big help in driving up the dismal recycling rates of many forms of plastics packaging.
She also said the program has been designed so that the recycling category for a product or product component can change as its level of recycling changes and hopefully improves.