The How2Recycle label needs a massive campaign – and brands should make it happen

by Sep 16, 2020

Shelton Stat of the Week

Only 22% of Americans say they always look for an item’s recycling label before discarding the item. Of those, 66% have noticed the How2Recycle label.

I hope you’ve downloaded our latest free report called “Engaging Middle America in Recycling Solutions.” If not, you can do so here. We conducted that research because we were curious about whether Americans were aware of what was happening with our recycling system – that most Asian countries will no longer take our plastics off our hands, many municipal curbside programs are shutting down and many of the plastics we’re all putting in our recycling bins are being landfilled – and, if they were aware, what was the impact on their recycling behaviors?

We also wanted to understand what could keep them engaged once they understood that there are things they need to do better or differently to ensure everything they chuck in the bin actually gets recycled. That led us to ask the following questions:

  • How often do you look for an item’s recycling label before discarding it?

  • Some companies have started including new labeling on their packaging showing which parts of the package are recyclable (see sample image). Have you noticed any new recycling labeling on the packaging of things you buy?

We made a high-level, perhaps seemingly cavalier recommendation in the report (and in my GreenBiz article about it) that most Americans haven’t noticed the How2Recycle label or find it too hard to read and that we need a massive campaign to teach people to look before they toss. It’s worth unpacking this because there’s a key insight for brands.

First off, only 22% of Americans say they always look for an item’s recycling label before discarding the item – so 1 in 5 people. Of those, 66% have noticed the new label, which is the How2Recycle label pictured above.

  • For the folks who have noticed – the 66% of the 22% – the vast majority (86%) find the label helpful and feel that the label makes it easier to know which parts of a package are actually recyclable.
  • Two-thirds of this group of “Always Recyclers” who’ve noticed the How2Recycle label say they feel frustrated that parts of the package aren’t recyclable. (If you read the free report, this makes sense – we all REALLY want to believe in the guilt-absolving promise of recycling.)
  • Half of this group say the label is too small to read, and 63% say if they weren’t already aware of the label, they wouldn’t know to look for it.

Bottom line: 1 in 5 Americans are diligently working to discard a brand’s packaging properly, and the How2Recycle label makes it easier for them to do it right. Thus, they think that brands should be promoting the label, making it easier to see on packaging, AND that companies need to make more parts of their packaging actually recyclable.

If you represent a consumer packaged goods (CPG) brand, you have a vested interest in encouraging better recycling behaviors. As we note in our report, people want the recycling system to work (76% of us say recycling makes us feel better about our purchases). They feel like it’s a promise that’s been made to them by CPG companies: “You don’t have to feel guilty about all the buying of stuff you do…just recycle it when you’re done, and it will become something else for somebody else! It’s the circle of life! You’re doing your part!” Once that promise begins to fall apart, most Americans won’t blame themselves – they’ll blame the companies who made the promise.

So, let’s make it work. Let’s create a massive campaign encouraging people to look for the How2Recycle label so that recyclable items actually get in the recycling bin and non-recyclable items go in the trash. And, brands, use that label as an internal pressure point to design packaging that’s actually recyclable. It’ll be great for your brand.

Who’s with me?

News of the Week

Blue Apron CEO’s Recipe for Continued Growth After the Pandemic – WBUR

One of the primary reasons consumers choose to subscribe to at-home meal kits from companies like Blue Apron is to reduce food waste. But those same consumers are also conscious of packaging waste. Many of us meal kit lovers have even given the programs up, fearing that all those tiny plastic packages were adding up to a big problem. So, back to the grocery store. However, a University of Michigan study revealed that “the carbon footprint of using the service is a third lower than shopping at the grocery store, including both packaging and transportation.” Blue Apron is doing the right things — more than 85% of its packaging is recyclable, it participates in the How2Recycle program (the first meal kit program to do so), and its President and CEO, Linda Findley Kozlowski, is committed to ensuring municipalities keep their recycling promises. We are living in a time when our climate commitments have taken a back seat to other global issues and recycling effectiveness myths have been swept under the rug. Despite that, companies like Blue Apron are committing to making a more waste-free life accessible to consumers. That’s what we need more of right now. Learn what they’re doing to solve the waste problem.  Read more…


Engaging Middle America In Recycling Solutions

Before COVID-19, 41% of Americans wanted to be seen as someone who buys green products, and many could cite an example of a brand they’d purchased (or not purchased) because of the environmental record of the manufacturer. Now, in the middle of the pandemic, the numbers have dropped dramatically. The big question is, what does this mean for engaging Americans in their number one green activity: recycling? Another question is, what does it mean for companies’ sustainability brand?

Our latest report answers these questions by digging into current consumer attitudes, how they impact consumer behavior, and how organizations should respond to ensure recycling – and other green behaviors – keep happening.

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About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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