In a press release published on May 19, 2020, Consumers International, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the One Planet Network announced the publication of their joint report that assesses the global labeling on plastic packaging related to recycling. With only an estimated 9% of all plastic ever produced having been recycled, the report highlights the scale of the plastic pollution problem and the need to create circular solutions. An important stakeholder group in implementing solutions are consumers. The report writes that “too often the onus is placed on consumers to understand an array of confusing, contradictory, or misleading information” related to which products to purchase and how to dispose of them properly. The report mapped and assessed standards, labels, and claims related to the materials, production, recyclability, and disposal of plastic packaging with a focus on fast-moving consumer goods as well as food and beverage products.
It provides an overview of the various existing recycling labels used across many international markets and assesses them for relevance, clarity, accessibility, and reliability. The report highlights good practices and areas where improvements should be made, and it identifies five key findings and recommendations for better communication with consumers on plastic packaging:
- All labels and claims on packaging should be adapted to follow the five fundamental principles within the Guidelines for Providing Product Sustainability Information developed by UNEP in 2017.
- Global harmonization is needed for definitions relating to the content and reusability of packaging.
- Any standards, labels, and claims “need to better reflect actual conditions,” which includes how (and if) recyclable, compostable, and biodegradable bottles will actually be managed as claimed on the packaging under varying local conditions.
- The use of the ‘chasing arrows’ symbol should be restricted to only indicating recyclability of packaging – use of the symbol for other claims confuses consumers, risks contamination, and reduces their confidence.
- Recycling labels should be informative and verified with their proper use enforced. Organizations that manage labels should align their requirements to avoid consumer confusion and ensure the use of the labels is done properly.
Consumers International (May 19, 2020). “New Research: Plastic recycling labelling confusing and inconsistent.”
Beverage Daily (May 20, 2020). “Can I recycle this? The push to make plastic packaging labelling transparent.”
Keller and Heckman LLP (May 29, 2020). “UN Report Calls for More Uniform Information on Plastic Packaging.”
Consumers International and UNEP (May 19, 2020). “Can I Recycle This? A Global Mapping and Assessment of Standards, Labels and Claims on Plastic Packaging.” (pdf)