To recycle or not? Piecing together the packaging labelling puzzle
12th February 2021
By Liath Campbell, ecoVeritas Consultant
Even with the best intentions for recycling household packaging, it can be difficult to know what can and cannot be recycled. Information about what to do with packaging post-use can be confusing, and inconsistent. This article considers some of the most common labels used on packaging to indicate how to dispose of packaging correctly and at the same time, bust some commonly held misconceptions.
OPRL or a On Pack Recycling Label is one of the most common logos used on household packaging. They are designed to give clear and consistent instructions about recycling each component of a pack, for example a ready meal plastic tray and lidding film combination. Composed of two parts, a circular arrow indicates recyclable while accompanying text details how or where to recycle the packaging. At the end of 2019, these labels were updated towards a more binary approach, indicating ‘Recycle’ or ‘Don’t recycle’, to make it even easier and consistent for consumers. As a result, there may be a combination of these labels in use for a time as the updates are progressively adopted. (Image copyright OPRL©)
Another common symbol found on plastic packaging is a resin identification code. The code is indicated as a number, 1-7, within a triangle, and identifies the type of plastic the packaging is made from – not all plastics are recyclable. Local authorities tend to indicate which codes can be included in regular kerbside recycling collections. If there is no OPRL logo or similar instruction for recycling, then you can use this code in conjunction with a general rule to identify recyclability.
A widely recognised symbol featuring two arrows that fit together in a circle. Very often the symbol is assumed by many to mean that the pack is recyclable. In fact, the Green Dot has no relevance to the recyclability.
Instead, the logo indicates that the manufacturer of the product has joined a Green Dot scheme, meaning that they contribute to the cost of packaging recovery and recycling. The Green Dot system is a legal requirement in many European countries but in the UK, producers fund the recovery and recycling of packaging under a different system and therefore the Green Dot is not required. However, to avoid the need for multiple packaging formats, many UK manufacturers include the symbol on their packaging.
The Mobius Loop comprises a triangle made up of three arrows looping back on themselves in clockwise direction. It indicates that the packaging can be recycled but not all packaging is accepted in all recycling collection systems, making it difficult for consumers to know how or where to dispose of the packaging. On plastic packaging, the Mobius Loop symbol can incorporate a number, 1-7, which correlates to the resin identification code discussed previously. Where a percentage figure is incorporated, this indicates how much of the product is manufactured from recycled materials.
It is important to be able to identify whether a packaging component is compostable as these should be kept out the main recycling stream to avoid contamination. Packaging can be industrially compostable or home compostable.
The Seedling logo demonstrates that packaging is industrially compostable and compliant with EN 13432.
OK Compost certifies both industrial and home compostable. Packaging that is home compostable has passed more stringent tests than that which is suitable for industrial composting and can biodegrade within a certain timeframe, in conditions achievable at home. Importantly, home compostable packaging should not be included in general plastic recycling, and instead should be disposed of in a compost bin, food caddy or garden waste bin.
For some materials that are not yet commonly collected by local authorities, some brands have set up their own recycling schemes. These are usually seen on film packets, such as crisps or biscuits, but also include a variety of hard to recycle components such as coffee capsules. These usually require packaging to be collected at specific drop-off locations or sent directly to the recycler or manufacturer.