Recycling Labels from How2Recycle Designed for Clear Communication

Labels Aim to End Confusion About What to Recycle and Recycling Claims


Hands up if you don't know if a particular package can be recycled in your blue box with your single stream recycling.

Just because a package proclaims to be "100 percent recyclable" or comes with the chasing arrows logo, it's no guarantee that it can or will be recycled, notes Susan Freinkel, author of Plastic: A Toxic Love Story. “Grocery store shelves are littered with misleadingly labeled products,” she writes, “much to the frustration of both shoppers and companies that are committed to recycling.”

Variation in recycling programs, unclear labeling, and inaccurate recycling claims make proper recycling a challenge. The How2Recycle Label was created to provide consistent and transparent on-package recycling information to consumers.

With clarity in mind, not-for-profit BlueGreen launched How2Recycle in 2008. The organization began its soft launch in 2013, and at the time of its 2014 annual report, had a membership of greater than 40 companies, up from just 11 members over the last three years. They represent a variety of sectors including electronics, beauty, beverage, cleaning products and food.

Members include not only national brands, but also private label products. Target, for example, now has greater than 270 products which carry the How2Recycle label, and continues to expand usage. The goals of How2Recycle are to:

  • Reduce confusion by creating a clear, well-understood, and nationally harmonized label that enables industry to convey to consumers how to recycle a package.

  • Improve the reliability, completeness, and transparency of recyclability claims.

  • Provide a labeling system that follows Federal Trade Commission Green Guides.

  • Increase the availability and quality of recycled material.

Through collaboration with more than 200 companies, including giants such as Microsoft, FedEx and McDonald’s, four classifications were created to help eliminate consumer confusion.

These include:

  • Widely recycled: packaging materials such as glass, cardboard, PET plastic bottles which are recycled in most communities.

  • Limited recycling: materials that are only recycled in 20 to 60% percent of the U.S., such as polypropylene yogurt containers.
  • Not recycled: materials that are rarely recycled, such as EPS foam.
  • Store drop-off: category for the bags and plastic film that are often collected by grocery stores for recycling.

 The label contains five specific elements. These include:

  • The Recyclability Icon: This indicates the recyclability of the packaging
  • Packaging Material: This identifies the packaging material used in the packaging component
  • Packaging Component: This identifies the type of package, such as box, cover or tray.
  • Special Instructions: These include directions to ensure successful recycling, such as “Rinse before recycling.”
  • Program Website:

Labeling for Store Drop-Off and Retail Recycling

Of special note, How2Recycle created a specific version of the label for plastic bags and films that are accepted primarily at retail stores.

Get to Know Your Local Recycling Program

Be sure to check locally. How2Recycle points out that all recycling programs are unique.

In order to become familiar with your local recycling program, consumers are advised to:

  • Check printed materials from your local government or recycling provider
  • Browse the website of your local government or recycling provider
  • Call your local government or recycling provider
  • Check with local retailers (such as Target) for recycling drop-off locations

Artwork Library Created

One notable resource added by How2Recycle has been an artwork delivery system. It includes a searchable portfolio of artwork files, and can be of great assistance in helping expedite the broader adoption of How2Recycle.