A new Greenpeace lawsuit against Walmart Inc. over recyclability claims in its labeling of plastic packaging seems to signal renewed interest around a question that's not gotten much attention in recent years.
The environmental group's Dec. 14 lawsuit in California comes as organizations like the U.S. Conference of Mayors and some big names in waste management are similarly pushing for Washington to look in much more detail at recyclability marketing to consumers.
One idea they raise is for a rethink of the resin identification code, the triangle symbol on plastics packaging that some consumers mistakenly see as a marker of recyclability.
David Biderman, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), said he "absolutely" sees labeling questions getting increased attention, including in state governments, as recycling programs face challenging times.
His group and others pressed the Environmental Protection Agency in December to elevate labeling issues, as the EPA drafts the U.S.'s first national recycling strategy. SWANA explicitly asked for reviews of the resin identification code.
"It has been increasingly clear in the last few years that many consumers are confused about the labeling of packaging," Biderman said. "We haven't analyzed in any depth whether the companies are greenwashing but we would hope that government agencies would more vigorously review recyclability claims that are not accurate."
The argument from Biderman and others is that consumers are given mixed messages that are either intentionally misleading or simply confusing, so they wind up tossing too many questionable products into recycling bins.