On February 17, 2020, the non-governmental organization Greenpeace announced the publication of a report that investigates the acceptance rate of different plastics at material recovery facilities (MRFs) in the US. The organization surveyed the country’s 367 operating MRFs and found that materials made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET; recycling code #1) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE, recycling code #2) are accepted at 100% of them. However, plastics made from resins with recycling code #’s 3-7 have very low acceptance rates. For polypropylene (PP; recycling code #5), for example, only 53% of MRFs were found to accept the material, and just 31% of the US population was identified to have access to municipal collection of items made from PP.
“This survey confirms what many news reports have indicated since China restricted plastic waste imports two years ago — that recycling facilities across the country are not able to sort, sell, and reprocess much of the plastic that companies produce,” said Jan Dell, leader of the survey across the MRFs. In regards to adding a “check locally” label to justify including a recyclability label, the organization clarifies that US consumers are not able to “check locally” on recyclability since acceptance by an MRF does not prove it will definitely be sent “for reuse or use in manufacturing or assembling another item,” as required by the US Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) guidelines. Greenpeace says it has identified many examples of US companies using recycling labels on products made from these plastics, some of which have already agreed to change their products’ labeling. For companies that “show no willingness to end this deception,” the organization plans to file a formal complaint with the FTC. “Retailers and consumer goods companies across the country are frequently putting labels on their products that mislead the public and harm America’s recycling systems,” said John Hocevar, a campaign director from Greenpeace. “Instead of getting serious about moving away from single-use plastic, corporations are hiding behind the pretense that their throwaway packaging is recyclable. We know now that this is untrue.”
In an article published on February 17, 2020, news provider Beverage Daily informed about a request from the Natural Source Waters Association (NSWA) for consumers to stop perceiving plastic bottles as being “single-use” products. This terminology, it argues, can confuse consumers and “lead to well-meaning people putting 100% recyclable PET plastic drinks bottles that can be turned into new drinks bottles into the general waste.” Instead the association said it recommends the term “‘recyclable bottle,’ – as it is clear what’s the right thing to do with it.” The NSWA represents a range of bottled water manufacturers including Nestlé and Danone. In a survey it conducted, 46% of consumers said they thought “single-use plastic” meant that it should be sorted as waste destined for landfill or incineration. “If we’re really going to improve recycling rates, we all need to use clear, positive language,” said Bryan McCluskey from NSWA. “The term ‘single-use plastic’ is not helping people to do the right thing with their plastic bottles.”
Perry Wheeler (February 18, 2020). “U.S. companies use misleading “recyclable” labels on hundreds of plastic products.” Greenpeace
E.A. Crunden (February 18, 2020). “Report argues most plastics, especially #3-7s, falsely labeled as recyclable.” Waste Dive
Oliver Morrison (February 17, 2020). “‘It’s not helping people to do the right thing with their plastic bottles’: NSWA calls for ‘single-use’ term to be scrapped.” Beverage Daily
Olivia Rosane (February 19, 2020). “U.S. Products Labeled Recyclable Really Aren’t, Greenpeace Report Says.” EcoWatch
Greenpeace (February 18, 2020). “Circular Claims Fall Flat: Comprehensive U.S. Survey of Plastics Recyclability.” (pdf)