The How2Recycle Label: Coming soon to a package near you

Sometimes the name for a new product or initiative doesn't explain well what it actually offers. This is not the case for the How2Recycle Label, which, as you can tell by the name, aims to offer a straightforward way of communicating to consumers how to recycle packaging.

This initiative began in 2008 by GreenBlue and its Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) in an effort to reduce confusion by creating a clear, well-understood, and nationally harmonized label that enables the industry to convey to consumers how to recycle a package. The How2Recycle Label program started off with a soft launch and brands such as General Mills, Target and Seventh Generation are now using the label on some of its products.

Still, with any new program, especially one that has to do with recycling, there's plenty of questions. As such, the Society of Plastics Industry (SPI) External Engagement Subcommittee invited the Sustainable Packaging Coalition to participate in a webinar to review the ins and outs of this new labeling scheme.

SPI says the new labeling scheme will impact the entire plastics supply chain for packaging. For example, material suppliers need to learn how the label could affect material selection on the part of packaging customers.

So I listened to the webinar, which took place Tuesday afternoon, and here are some of the highlights.

First, a refresher

Anne Bedarf, GreenBlue senior manager, presented during the webinar and gave details about what the labels entail. The How2Recycle Label is based on the On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) system in the UK and was developed through more than three years of research, consumer testing, and a national effort to collect updated recyclability data in conjunction with industry partners.

With this new system, companies can customize package labels by utilizing up to four available options (with associated icons) including: Widely Recycled, Limited Recycling/Check Locally, Not Yet Recycled, and a Store Drop-off label. Each component of a package will be labeled.

Here's a closer look at the label:

During the soft launch, the group learned several lessons. For instance, the How2Recycle Label is most easily incorporated into packaging for new products or while products/packages are undergoing refreshers or other changes. The How2Recycle Guidance Document is updated annually and identified critical design considerations such as label use with dark colored packaging, eliminating unnecessary or redundant messaging, relocating Resin Identification Codes (RICs) so as to follow both FTC and ASTM guidelines and labeling bottles with full-body shrink sleeve labels appropriately to reflect the issues with its recyclability.

Usage continues to grow

GreenBlue estimates that more than 7,000 stock keeping units carry the How2Recycle Label on more than 100 million packages that are either on shelves or were previously purchased by consumers.

During the webinar, SPC announced that Hilex Poly, a manufacturer of plastic bag and film products, Reynolds Consumer Products and Kimberly-Clark will start using the How2Recycle Label.

Participation in the How2Recycle Label program includes a fee, which covers staff costs, administrative needs, label designs and review, individual packaging recyclability analysis, data upkeep and more. 

For example, if a medium-sized company (with annual revenue

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