Canadian Plastics

Plastic recycling labelling confusing and inconsistent, report says

A new report on recycling and sustainability labelling on plastic packaging has found only 17% of assessed labels give consumers quality information to make informed recycling and purchasing decisions.

May 20, 2020   Canadian Plastics

A new report on recycling and sustainability labelling on plastic packaging has found only 17% of assessed labels give consumers quality information to make informed recycling and purchasing decisions.

The report – from the UN Environment Programme, Consumers International, and the One Planet network – found that 20% of the 30 worldwide labels assessed were given a negative score by consulted experts, 17% were positive, and the rest received mixed or neutral results.

In response the report authors have created five global recommendations for action to engage business, policy makers and standard setters in creating better plastics labelling with the aim to make sustainability the easy choice for consumers.

Consumers are increasingly aware of the impact of plastic on the environment and want to reduce their use, the report said, but the information provided to them is often unclear, leading to reported confusion and mistrust. There is a lack of standardization and accountability with individual brands creating their own labels and claims without third party certification.

Globally, only about 9% of plastic waste has been recycled and about 12% has been incinerated. The vast majority ends up in landfill or leaks into the environment. This is far away from the global vision for plastics to be 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable. Rising public awareness and concern about plastics has encouraged businesses to increasingly communicate this information about their packaging. However, the information is not always clear or actionable for consumers.

A global, multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder approach is the only way to tackle a crisis on this scale. Better plastics labelling is a simple and powerful way to help consumers to buy more recyclable and recycled products and to dispose of them correctly.

An international, cross-sector consultation presented in the report revealed five key insights and recommendations for clearer and more effective consumer communication on plastic packaging:

  • Businesses should follow the Guidelines for Providing Product Sustainability Informationin their plastic packaging communications.
  • Definitions about the content and reusability of plastic packaging need to be harmonised at a global level
  • Standards, labels, and claims need to better reflect actual conditions.
  • The use of the ‘chasing arrows’ symbol should be restricted to indicating recyclability.
  • Informative and verified recycling labels should be adopted and their proper use enforced.

“While direct consumer research was out of scope for this report, existing research and insights from expert interviews illustrate that the current landscape contributes to significant consumer confusion regarding the sustainability of plastic packaging,” the report said. “In such a scenario, it becomes difficult for consumers to make decisions consistent with transitioning to the circular economy.”

The findings of the report highlight that work is needed to improve both the definitions used in labels and claims on plastic packaging, and the standards that underpin them, as well as the design of consumer communications. “Greater consistency is needed for terms that communicate information about content or reusability intended to influence purchase decisions,” the report concluded. “Terms that provide information on options for end of life disposal should be more attentive to real-life conditions, accessibility, and consumer understanding.”

To read the full report, click on this link.


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