Plastics Recycling Update

Greenpeace: Recycling access belies labeling claims

A recent Greenpeace report noted companies are increasingly calling a wider variety of products “recyclable.” | Marko Rupena/Shutterstock

Environmental advocacy group Greenpeace USA released its findings that products made from plastics Nos. 3-7 are being billed as widely recyclable despite low MRF acceptance nationwide.

Out of 367 MRFs surveyed for the report, Greenpeace found that 100% of facilities accepted PET and HDPE bottles and jugs. But with other plastics, acceptance rates drop substantially.

The survey found 53% of MRFs accept PP tubs, 14% accept plastic clamshells, 11% accept plastic cups, 7% accept plastic trays, 4% accept plastic bags, 3% accept expanded PS foodservice packaging; 3% accept plastic lids and caps; 1% accept plastic plates; 1% accept plastic cutlery and other utensils; and none accepted plastic food wrappers or coffee pods.

These types of materials have low or negligible reprocessing capacity, according to Greenpeace, suggesting no reasonable likelihood they will be recycled into new products.

But at the same time, Greenpeace noted companies are increasingly calling a wider variety of products “recyclable.”

“In response to growing public concern on plastic pollution and excessive plastic waste generation, many corporations are making high profile, global commitments to make their products recyclable, reusable or compostable,” Greenpeace wrote. “Companies are expanding the use of ‘recyclable’ labels on plastic products at an aggressive pace.”

Such labels, Greenpeace noted, open companies up to liability for being out of compliance with federal rules governing labeling.

The report comes shortly after labeling initiative How2Recycle announced PP materials and PET thermoforms would be reclassified from “widely recycled” to “check locally” in part because constrained markets have reduced recycling program acceptance of those materials.

A version of this story appeared in Resource Recycling on February 25.

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