The On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) is calling for clear and consistent mandatory labelling on packaging. Our guest explains why OPRL believes correct labelling is essential.
This is a guest article by Jane Bevis. All views expressed are Jane’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.
Ever puzzled over whether you can recycle something? Or wondered what happens if you recycle something which can’t be processed? Well, you’re not alone – confusion is the biggest barrier to recycling, affecting six in 10 of us. We need to #MakeItEasy by having clear and consistent mandatory labelling on packaging.
There’s quite a science to designing labels that inspire people to action. It’s something we’ve been doing for 13 years and our 2020 design is the best yet. Global bodies such as the UN Environment Programme and Consumers International have looked at what works and why, as has the Environmental Coalition on Standards.
Like us at OPRL, they think it needs to be easy to recognise, clear and understandable, and based on facts and local recycling infrastructure. In fact, they think we get it right.
We also think it needs to be universal: one label for the UK, not lots of confusing symbols.
Confused about what you can actually recycle?
— Which? (@WhichUK) January 26, 2020
The government disagrees. It’s proposing any business should be able to invent its own label design, leaving consumers guessing. Imagine if every council designed its own road signs or traffic light colours. We use standard symbols for all sorts of things in life where we just need an instant prompt. Recycling is no different.
— OPRL Ltd (@OPRL) September 8, 2021
Why should we worry and can labelling work?
♻ Does it matter if stuff is recycled incorrectly?
Yes, it really does. Firstly, if we don’t recycle something that is recyclable then we lose materials which either go to landfill or Energy from Waste instead of being reused. That means more ore mining, more sand dredging, more forest felling, more plastics manufacture.
Even worse, if we recycle something that isn’t recyclable it can contaminate reprocessing and lead to whole batches being ditched, adding to waste. The North London Waste Authority reckons in their area alone 18,000 tonnes of recyclable materials were wasted because of contamination last year (PDF report).
All of which adds to climate change, despite packaging being a tiny part (less than 3%) of a product’s carbon footprint.
♻ Doesn’t each council recycle different things so how can you label accurately?
Actually, no, not really. Although there are lots of variations on how councils collect recycling – different colour bins; some all mixed in together, others separated; some lots from home, others relying on bring sites – nearly all councils collect pretty much the same stuff. The main exceptions are some types of plastic, but plastic bottles, for instance, are some of the most recyclable packaging in the UK.
Our voluntary labelling scheme, OPRL, researches council collections as well as how these are sorted and processed before deciding which kinds of packaging can be marked as ‘Recycle’ and which can’t. Where the main way of collecting is at bring sites we offer special labels making that clear.
In future the government intends making labelling mandatory and setting the rules on what’s recyclable as part of the Extended Producer Responsibility rules under the Environment Bill, when it passes into law. That could really help as every piece of packaging will have a label on it. But which one?
So what should we do?
We’re asking government to make sure the mandatory label does what they’ve said they want – give clear and consistent signals to consumers. That means a single design, no matter what the brand.
We’ve tried getting an amendment to the Environment Bill but the government has refused. So now we’re asking the public to ask too, via our petition.
Do you agree that we need clear and consistent mandatory labelling on packaging? Would you find it easier to recycle if there weren’t so many different symbols?
This was a guest article by Jane Bevis. All views expressed were Jane’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?.
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