Schaumburg, Ill. — Everybody knows what recycling is, right?
Not so fast. Language is a living thing, changing and evolving over time, sayeth thou linguists.
And, now, even the definition of the word "recycle" is coming into play as an upcoming change in California as well as potential alternations on the federal level could impact how companies can use the word on their packaging.
"We see more and more conversation getting refined about what does 'recycle' mean. Upcycling vs. recycling vs. downcycling," Melissa Niebes, chief commercial officer at Federal Package Network Inc., said at the recent Plastics Caps & Closures 2022 conference organized by Plastics News.
Upcycling, for example, could be plastic from a water bottle finding its way into a new shoe. And downcycling could involve used water bottles becoming plastic lumber, she explained during the show in Schaumburg.
But using the term recycling, Niebes said, could evolve into requiring recycled plastics return to their former use to qualify.
Federal Package is both a contract manufacturer of deodorants and lip balms as well as a packaging maker based in Chanhassen, Minn., near Minneapolis.
California already has passed a law, Senate Bill 343, that will reset the definition of recycling. And Niebes said there is the potential for the Green Guides published by the Federal Trade Commission to update later this year to address the same topic. The Green Guides, which are voluntary, aim to help companies make true and substantiated claims in their environmental marketing. FTC has signaled its working on an update.
SB-343 goes into effect Jan. 1, 2024, and requires packaging to be recyclable in 60 percent of the state to claim recyclability on labeling. California is known to drive legislative change that ultimately acts as a basis for national rules. And SB-343 is viewed by some as a potential catalyst for federal changes.
"We expect, long term, the term 'recycle' to truly be if it was a water bottle, it goes back into a water bottle," Niebes said.
"It's what brands can claim on their packaging. Right now, a bunch of brands are putting the chasing arrows around the resin code, which isn't necessarily conforming to the Green Guides and now California law. They are trying to make that stricter," she said.
"Recycling is starting to get narrower from a definition standpoint, and we expect over time that recycling is going to mean you essentially have your product [manufactured] into the exact same product," Niebes said. "This is going to be a continuing, evolving conversation and one to watch."