Recycling Labels: The Past, Present and Future

Recycling has been around since 400 BC. The Industrial Revolution sparked demand for affordable materials; refundable depositson beverage bottles started around 1800;and government campaigns were carried out all over the world during WWII urging citizens to donate materials to aid the war effort.
 
A milestone in the history of recycling was the introduction of the universal symbol for recycling. The infamous symbol, a triangle with three arrows representing: reduce, reuse, recycle, was designed in the late 1960s as part of an art contest to raise environmental awareness. Due to rising energy costs, the next big investment in recycling occurred in the 1970s,when drop-off centers were established.
 
In order to meet recycler’s needs and allow for manufacturing consistency; a coding system was introduced in 1988 by the Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc. Plastic products were printed with Resin Identification Codes (RICs) or #1-7. For example, #1 plastic (or PETE), is commonly found on water bottles. The recycling symbol hasn’t been modified until now.
 
The Sustainable Packaging Coalition has created the voluntary How2Recycle label. Their goal is to reduce confusion by creating a clear, well-understood label.Each label is comprised of five pieces of information for each unique packaging component: the recycling icon, special instructions, packaging material, packaging component, and program website. This type of recycling label is the most educational, covering all components of a package, while providing additional info and support.
 
This label, patterned after one used in the United Kingdom, launched this year on laundry detergent by Seventh Generation and on outdoor gear at REI. Other companies like Costco, General mills, ConAgra Foods, Orville Redenbacher, and Best Buy have also agreed to use the new labels on some products.
 
So what does this mean for multifamily communities? Because these labels will better educate residents, it is likely that more people will begin recycling and/or the ones that already do may begin recycling more. Regardless, it’s essential to closely monitor how often your dumpsters or toters fill up and are emptied. If you notice they’re filling up very quickly with recyclables, consider adding additional containers. Check with your hauler to determine the appropriate number of containers you should place on-site (based on the number of units and participation).
 
Overall, it’s refreshing to know the global scaling of recycling in the 20th Century, especially where it was 30 years ago, and that recycling labels like this need to be created in the first place. Keep an eye out for these labels, which may once again change the way we recycle in our communities.