A new on-pack recycling labelling system featuring both colours and numbers could help simplify recycling for consumers without costing councils millions, according to SUEZ.
The recycling company claims that while there are a “plethora” of recycling labels and symbols, including the On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) and the Green Dot, there is currently no consistent, universal, guidance to help consumers recycle and make more sustainable choices.
Drawing on independent research, the company has designed a labelling system using a “traffic light” coloured version of the existing Mobius Recycling Loop to show consumers at a glance whether a product can be easily recycled on not. Each product would also be assigned a number indicating which bin or recycling box it can be placed in. Councils and businesses would then label their existing bins with the relevant numbers.
SUEZ claims that such a system would save councils from having to “harmonise” hundreds of different recycling collection systems by introducing new containers and infrastructure, something that many local authorities oppose.
David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, said that there has been “understandable resistance” to calls to harmonise local authority recycling collections, due to the cost, complexity and impracticalities involved.
He said: “This purchase by colour and recycle by numbers system, in part designed by the very consumers that will use it, solves the twin challenge of empowering consumers to make more sustainable choices and harmonising bin collection systems, making it simpler to recycle without having to spend a fortune on new ‘binfrastructure’.”
Under the proposed system, Mr Palmer-Jones said it would no longer matter what colour or shape your bins are, as products would include “clear instructions” to make recycling simple.
SUEZ’s research was informed by a series of workshops held by independent researchers, where consumers demonstrated a preference for traffic light colour systems and familiar symbols. The participants thought that a negative or ‘red’ eco label would erode a brand’s reputation over time, encouraging them to swap brands.
Meanwhile, the idea for a numbering system was suggested during a SUEZ-hosted workshop and is currently being discussed across the industry, with a number of organisations – from manufacturers to retailers, councils and waste-management companies reportedly seeing some value in the idea.
Mr Palmer-Jones called for the Government to consider a labelling shake-up as part of its new resources and waste strategy, due out in November.
He said: “Mandatory on-pack labelling must be just part of a radical shake-up by Government to influence the way we make, consume and discard materials sustainably as a society. In the Chancellor’s budget this month we hope to see measures to combat throw-away items while incentivising the use of recycled material – driving a domestic circular economy.
“The resources and waste strategy for England, due in November, must also contain measures to assign greater financial responsibility to manufacturers, for recycling and disposal costs associated with the materials they place on the market, if we are to address the issue of waste being designed-in at source.”
The existing On-Pack Recycling Label, which was developed by the British Retail Consortium in partnership with WRAP, details whether packaging can be recycled, on a scale from widely recycled to not yet recycled. It is currently being used by 550 brands.
Earlier this year, the inaugural executive director of the OPRL called for a more active way of recycling messages to be featured on product labels (see letsrecycle.com story)