All About Recycling: Symbols, Facts, and Tips
Product packaging is everywhere. Unfortunately, it does not disappear into thin air. COVID-19 has accelerated the change in the way consumers buy, which has led to a rise in ecommerce and the way products are packaged and distributed. The expansion of the global economy, SKU proliferation, and consumerism have all contributed to an increase in product packaging volume. In parallel, the earth is continuously being mined for raw materials, and the amount of mismanaged packaging waste is causing severe damage to the environment.
There is now a growing need to reduce waste, and recycling can help alleviate this problem. Recycling saves resources, sends less trash into landfills, and helps reduce air and water pollution. Knowing the fundamentals of recycling can help both consumers and businesses reduce their waste and help the environment.
A new wave of eco-friendly packaging alternatives has emerged, including sustainable printing practices and technologies, along with recyclable and biodegradable materials and those made from previously recycled post-consumer waste. Recyclability is key to sustainable packaging, and learning about recyclable materials and practices helps brands make better decisions about sustainable product packaging.
All About Recycling: Symbols, Facts, and Tips
5 Fast Facts and Stats on Recycling
- Recycling helps conserve energy and natural resources such as coal, oil, and gas. (Source: Conserve Energy Future)
Recycling reduces the need to make materials from scratch, making the same products with less energy and expense. Plastic, paper, glass, and aluminum are made from raw resources such as oil, wood, and ore. Transporting and refining these natural resources make up the manufacturing process, which is expedited by using recycled materials that otherwise would have been disposed of.
- 75% of America’s waste is considered recyclable, but only 34% is actually being recycled (Source: Rubicon)
With a recycling rate of 34%, the U.S. still falls behind other developed countries. Notably, the U.S. represents 4% of the world’s population, but it produces 12% of global municipal solid waste (MSW). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported in 2015 that the country generated 262 million tons of municipal waste, with more than half of it sent to landfill.
- Single-use plastics frequently do not make it to a landfill, nor are they recycled. Of the 78 million tons produced annually, 32% is left to flow into oceans. (Source: Earthday)
Studies have shown that 32% of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced annually is left to flow into the oceans. This rate is equivalent to pouring one garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute. Today only 14% of global plastic packaging is collected for recycling, and only 2% is reused as packaging.
- The average household throws away 13,000 separate pieces of paper each year; most are from discarded packaging and junk mail. (Source: USI)
Each year, the average American uses more than 600 pounds of paper and paperboard products while the household throws away about 13,000 pieces of paper. It is the most significant element in American municipal solid waste. Although paper typically takes two to six weeks to decompose, it may also take decades, depending on the moisture levels within the landfill.
- On average, it costs $30 per ton to recycle trash, $50 to send it to the landfill, and $65 to $75 to incinerate it. (Source: Roadrunner)
The most common reason purchasing managers give for not buying and using recycled products is that they are expensive. However, recycling programs require less energy and costs to recycle materials than to process virgin resources and raw materials into products.
Companies like American Airlines have not paid higher prices while committing to recycling and waste reduction principles. The computer division of the company has saved over $100,000 by converting to 100% recycled paper.
What Do Recycling Symbols Mean?
- Recycling Symbol
The Mobius symbol indicates that an object can be recycled according to the sorting systems and technologies available at its location. It does not mean that the item has been recycled or will be accepted. It also does not mean that it should be placed in a household recycling bin.
- Recycling Symbol with Percentage
This symbol indicates that the item was made from recycled materials, with the percentage of recycled materials used to make it. Items made from recycled materials are sometimes also recyclable.
- Made from Recycled Materials
The recycling symbol over a dark circle means that the item was made from recycled materials. Many items with this symbol cannot be recycled, and this includes disposable items or end-of-use products such as paper, napkins, and paper towels.
- How2Recycle Label
This is a series of recycling symbols created by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. The label indicates if the item is recyclable widely, recyclable in limited areas, not at all recyclable, or needs to be dropped off at a store. The label also tells what material each piece is made from and which parts can be recycled.
- Electrical Waste
This symbol indicates that the electrical item should not be included in general waste and instead taken to a local recycling center in line with local environmental regulation. Variations of this symbol can be used for other items.
- Glass Recycling
This symbol means the packaging is made from glass and must be recycled. Glass bottles and jars must be cleaned, removed of lids, and separated by color. These can be disposed of in household recycle bins or a bottle bank.
- Recyclable Aluminum
This symbol shows that the item is made from recyclable aluminum. This often includes foil packaging and beverage cans. Clean, dry, and loose aluminum cans, trays, and foil can be placed in household recycling bins. Aluminum cans can also be disposed of at most local bottle banks.
- Recyclable Steel
This symbol indicates that the product is made and manufactured from steel and can be recycled by the consumer or local authority. Clean, dry, and loose steel food cans and lids can be placed in the household recycling bin.
- The 7 Plastic Resin Codes
- Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET/PETE)
PET is one of the most commonly used plastics in consumer products intended for single-use applications. It is usually found in water bottles, ketchup, peanut butter containers, and vegetable oil containers. PET can be recycled into furniture, carpets, tote bags, and new bottles and food containers.
- High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
HDPE plastic does not break down under sunlight or extreme heating or freezing. The plastic is used to make milk and juice bottles, household cleaner bottles, shampoo bottles, and yogurt tubs. It can be recycled into laundry detergent bottles, picnic tables, plastic bags, pens, and plastic lumber.
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
PVC is a sturdy yet soft, flexible plastic. It is relatively impervious to sunlight and weather. Products made of PVC are not recyclable because they contain different toxins which can leach throughout their life cycle. PVC is used to make clear plastic food wrapping, cooking oil bottles, toys, blister packaging, windows, and drain pipes. It can be repurposed into mats, flooring, cables, and speed bumps.
- Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
LDPE is relatively safer to use than other plastics since it is less toxic. LDPE plastic is reusable but not always recyclable. It is used in toothpaste tubes, bread bags, frozen food bags, and furniture. When recycled, LDPE is used for plastic lumber, landscaping boards, compost bins, and floor tiles.
- Polypropylene (PP)
PP is tough and lightweight and contains heat-resistance qualities. It is also resistant to moisture, grease, and chemicals. PP is used for plastic bottle caps, margarine and yogurt containers, chip bags, disposable diapers, pails, straws, packing tape, and rope. Polypropylene is reusable and can be recycled into new pots, tubs, and trays.
- Polystyrene (PS)
PS is a lightweight, inexpensive plastic that can easily be formed. It is often used to make disposable plates and cups, meat trays, egg cartons, and takeaway containers. Unfortunately, polystyrene breaks up easily and is dispersed throughout the natural environment, making it difficult to recycle.
- Other (BPA, Lexan, PC, etc.)
The #7 category encompasses polycarbonate (PC) and other plastics. Number 7 plastics are used to make nylon, baby bottles, water cooler bottles, car parts, bullet-proof materials, sunglasses, and DVDs. BPA is found in polycarbonate plastic food containers. These plastics cannot be recycled from home.
6 Tips to Recycle Product Packaging Properly
- Encourage buyers to segregate recyclables from other wastes.
Different types of wastes take differing lengths of time to break down and decompose naturally. The timeline can even increase due to the lack of oxygen in tightly-compacted landfills. Segregation ensures that less waste goes to landfills, making it cheaper and better for people and the environment.
- Teach buyers how to collect and clean recyclable product packaging.
Mixed recycling can ruin the quality of the other materials in the bin, such as cardboard and paper. The contaminated materials are most likely to end up at a landfill. This is why it is vital to keep recyclables empty, clean, and dry to prevent odors, mold, and pests.
- Let buyers know that they can reuse or transform their non-recyclables.
Items commonly disposed of in the trash can serve as valuable resources when reused properly and creatively. For instance, packing materials such as polystyrene and plastic quilting can be saved and reused for packing. Wrapping paper, plastic bags, boxes, and lumber can also be reused. Containers and microwaveable dinner plates can be reused at home or for school projects.
- Encourage setting up waste stations and being aware of recycling drop-off points.
It is essential to have clearly labeled bins to promote recycling at home or work and for effective segregation. Educate your consumers about the nearest recycling drop-off points in their area since not all materials can be recycled or reused at home or work. Recyclables go through a multi-step process, from local recycling centers to conversion into new materials.
- Adopt sustainable packaging and eco-friendly solutions.
The advantages of sustainable packaging include lower shipping costs, consolidated or more efficient storage, and increased customer numbers and loyalty.
According to BigCommerce, research conducted in 2018 showed that 48% of consumers are willing to change their consumption to lower their environmental impact. The analysis also found that sustainable product sales in the U.S. have grown nearly 20% since 2014, with an estimated $150 billion in sales by 2021.
- Advocate research and learning about recycling.
Continually learning about recycling would help people engage in meaningful action and stick to it. In learning how to recycle, people are exposed to other possibilities. There are other aspects of recycling to explore. Some of the topics that can be studied further include the properties of different materials, consumer culture, and ecosystems.
Recycling is a tangible and practical way of understanding the planet’s sustainability crisis and its many facets.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Reinvent, and Rebuild
Recycling is essential for reducing waste and the eventual preservation of the planet and future generations.
If your brand genuinely wants to focus on recycling and its environmental benefits, it is vital to address it on both a consumer and business level. Recycling begins at home, so encouraging your consumers to refrain from immediately disposing of old products and instead utilizing them for something new can be influential.
Business-level sustainable practices must be implemented now more than ever, especially with the increasing waste produced by product packaging. With the knowledge you have gathered from the above infographic, what creative steps can you take to ensure that your packaging aligns with recycling best practices?
To learn more about how your business can make an impact, reach out to experts from Meyers and realize the potential of creative packaging through professional printing solutions.