Keep Up, Recycling Labels Are About To Get Changed – Again

New environment minister Theresa Villiers thinks the current labelling is confusing. She's not the only one.
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Confused by your recycling? How many bins are you meant to have, when are they all collected and why is your system completely different to your friends who live two miles down the road? Well don’t worry, Boris Johnson’s new cabinet is about to shake things up yet again.

Environment secretary Theresa Villiers believes the crucial thing holding people back from totally understanding their recycling is labels. Villiers wants to change the current system, which she says is confusing, to make things easier.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs hopes addressing the sometimes ambiguous labels will increase the current recycling rate in England which has stalled around 45%.

Villiers – who replaced Michael Gove in Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle – has set out her stall and pledged one of her priorities will be establishing a clearer labelling system for packaging. The labels will tell consumers what can, and crucially cannot, be recycled.

Speaking to The Times, Villiers says: “The means of delivering increased rates of recycling is ensuring that people have a better understanding of what is recyclable and how to do it. This is an important issue for us as government. We are working on clearer labels.”

She says one of the most confusing labels currently in circulation is the circular arrow symbol – known in the industry as the ‘green dot’ – which marks that an ‘offsetting’ fee has been paid towards recycling of other materials.

It looks remarkably similar to the symbol for ‘recyclable’ – even when the product isn’t. This is one of the symbols Villiers is hoping to switch up.

Another commonly used label marks materials as ‘not yet recycled’, and is used on packaging which is collected by less than a fifth of local authorities, such as crisp packets.

But this means that those who live in local authorities where those items are collected for recycling might not be aware they don’t have to go in the bin.

Inconsistencies across councils was highlighted as an area for improvement by the former environment secretary Michael Gove when he pledged to change the system so all households in England would have the same bin system. The promise, made in December 2018, for a nationwide scheme has not yet come to fruition.

Villier’s new plans for easier labelling are being worked on by retailers and manufacturers who say they’re trialling ideas, such as a numbered label that would correspond with a numbered bin system – leaving no room for ambiguity.

For example, they suggest cans could be numbered ‘1’ so that consumers knew to put them a corresponding bin, also labelled ‘1’.

This week it was announced the government’s 2015 policy on single-use plastic bags, which saw the introduction of a 5p charge, has reduced bag use by 90% in just four years. Although the UK is still using 549 million plastic bags a year, the drop in use was welcomed as a crucial step in the right direction.