Supermarkets and suppliers have agreed to make major changes to on-pack labelling in a bid to end consumer confusion over what types of plastic can be recycled.
The shake-up, which involves most of the major supermarkets and hundreds of suppliers, will see them switch to a simplified system which will tell consumers to either ‘recycle’ or ‘don’t recycle’ products.
Under the previous system, thousands of products have carried labels advising consumers to check whether local authorities recycle products.
The On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) – the umbrella body carrying out the shift – said the new system would be far simpler for consumers to understand. It could prevent large amounts of packaging such as black plastic being sent to local authorities by households unaware it ended up going to landfill, it added.
The changes mean plastic packaging including PVC, polystyrene pots and non-infrared detectable black plastic will be labelled ‘don’t recycle’, in packaging rolled out from 1 February.
While supermarkets have been moving to rid their shelves of the material, some suppliers had been much slower, said industry sources. Confusion among consumers over what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ plastic had been made worse by a lack of clarity in labelling, they added.
Previously, packaging could have have been labelled ’Check Local Recycling’, even though as few as one in five councils accepted the material.
The move would also scrap the ‘Not Yet Recycled’ category, which has been used by OPRL members on packaging when fewer than 20% of UK local authorities collect that material.
It comes ahead of the government’s planned extended producer responsibility policy, which would make food and drink companies responsible for the cost of recovery for their products.
While the changes cover all types of packaging, they have been driven by concern over plastic and lack of consumer knowledge about which types can be recycled.
“Having a straightforward binary approach to these labels will hopefully give hugely greater clarity to consumers,” said OPRL chair Jane Bevis.
“This will give consumers the certainty they have been calling out for when it comes to plastic and the knowledge that if they put something in the recycling then they can expect that it will end up being recycled.”
OPRL, which was launched by the BRC in 2009 but now operates independently, has seen major companies including the likes of Unilever, RB and P&G join in the past 18 months.
Bevis said it worked closely with Wrap and the industry’s UK Plastics Pact on the changes.
Iain Ferguson, environment manager at founding OPRL member the Co-op, said: “Consumers increasingly want clearer information on what to do with their packaging. We welcome all moves that simplify messaging around correct disposal routes and hope that OPRL’s latest review will help drive better habits and more informed action amongst the UK population.”
BRC head of sustainability Peter Andrews said: “Our members have pioneered the use of clear on-pack recycling labels and would like to see it become mandatory for all brands.
“We can make even more progress once there are clear and consistent recycling systems across all local authorities so we can use the ‘recycle’ label as widely as possible.”