Survey: Consumers find industry terminology to be a significant recycling obstacle

Dive Brief:

  • A new online survey from the Foodservice Packaging Institute, conducted by Resource Recycling Systems, found that residents don't respond as well to industry terminology when it comes to understanding recycling guidelines, as reported by Plastics News.
  • When shown a picture of a plastic clamshell container, only 19% of respondents identified it as such. The term "plastic container" was chosen by 61% and 12% picked "take-out container." The results were similar when shown a polystyrene clamshell — 50% of respondents chose "foam container" as the best description.
  • When asked which source they rely on most for recycling information 31% said their city, county or recycling company's website, followed by 23% who said signage on recycling carts. Among respondents in the 18-34 range, social media was also a popular choice. As for where they go first to understand whether a product is recyclable, 51% of respondents said they look at its recycling symbol.

Dive Insight:

Clear education is a critical part of increasing diversion rates and reducing contamination that can be costly for material recovery facilities. The survey also looked at the best language for directing residents to empty and clean their containers in an effort to better understand this issue. 

Overall, these results support a push to standardize terminology on a national level that has been driven by a few organizations in particular. Recycle By City has been working to provide clear online information about the recycling guidelines for specific municipalities. Recycle Across America has been doing this at the ground level with standardized labels for bins in various public buildings, particularly schools. This year, Rhode Island became the first to adopt the labels statewide and make them available to all government agencies and municipalities.

As indicated by the survey results, consumers also still rely on the standard product recycling symbols which is aprt of the reason why more brands are beginning to use the standardized How2Recycle labeling on their packaging. A new How2Compost label was recently launched as well to address the growing amount of compostable products coming on the market. All of these efforts are promising, though some packaging still falls outside any recycling category which has encouraged talk of extended producer responsibility programs or circular economy design to address this.

Follow on Twitter

Filed Under: Recycling Waste Diversion
Top image credit: Flickr