Are some recycling labels misleading? Unfortunately, yes.

Right now, what some companies label as ‘recyclable’ can't actually be recycled at all

Matt Casale

Former Director, Environment Campaigns, PIRG

The labels on the packaging of the products we buy are supposed to say what they mean and mean what they say. When we see a “recyclable” label on a plastic container, we should feel good about putting it in the blue bin. But what if products labeled “recyclable” are never recycled at all?

Right now, we have a chance to take action to make companies come clean, by only labeling their products as “recyclable” if they can actually be recycled. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is updating its “Green Guides” that prevent marketers from making unfair or deceptive claims about the things they sell — and the agency wants to hear from you.

How can we better define what’s ‘recyclable’?

The definition of “recyclable” should be simple: You’d think a recyclable product is simply anything that gets broken down and re-used to create something new, preventing waste. But the reality is more complicated: One study found that “recycling” is defined in 18 different ways across the country.

The thousands of different community recycling programs nationwide don’t make it any easier, either. Changes to what they do and do not accept as recycling make it confusing for consumers like us, who just want to know what is environmentally friendly to buy and use, and how to dispose of it afterward — or better, how to reuse or recycle it.

The FTC can cut through the confusion by prohibiting the use of the word “recyclable,” chasing arrows recycling symbol, or other statements that imply a product is recyclable unless the item is actually recyclable.

Recycling is an essential tool in tackling plastic waste

A functional recycling system is vital.

Recycling plastic waste prevents it from being incinerated, which releases toxic pollution that threatens our health and our climate. And using recycled plastic to produce new products is far better than extracting fossil fuels to make brand-new plastic at the cost of our environment.

We should be able to trust that products labeled “recyclable” can actually be recycled. Add your name today to urge the FTC to regulate “recyclable” labels.


Matt Casale

Former Director, Environment Campaigns, PIRG