Standardizing recycling labels for bins
Standardizing recycling labels for bins
A nonprofit organization is spearheading a simple solution to a common source of confusion that often leads to headaches for recycling processors and haulers.
Despite other advancements in recycling, the industry still lacks a consistent and coherent way to label recycling bins, leaving the guesswork with consumers who often put items in the wrong receptacle or in the trash, creating more work for processors down the line. But a new initiative being introduced to the industry and the general public seeks to solve this regularly occurring problem.
In 2009, at the Recycling Association of Minnesota Conference, Michelle "Mitch" Hedlund pitched the idea of creating standardized labels on recycling bins that would signal to consumers where to put their recyclables, doing away with the confusing array of signage used across the country, while producing cleaner and more consistent streams for processors.
The idea went over so well, that a national committee composed of about 40 organizations including industry groups, school associations, retailers and others was formed to come up with labels that the public would come to readily associate with certain types of materials and drop them in the correct bin without an afterthought, Recycle Across America (RAA), which Hedlund serves as executive director of, was also formed to further spearhead the effort.
"We wanted to make sure that it wasn't just industry making that decision, but also the general public," said Hedlund.
Hedlund stressed that developing easy-to-recognize labeling to be uniformly used on receptacles is long overdue. She said that the labels, which she hopes will be as commonly understood as traffic signals, could make a big difference in the quality of materials collected and the overall effectiveness of recycling.
"If recycling and manufacturing with recycled materials is going to be taken seriously in this country, then the labels on bins need to be taken seriously. It's simply a matter of common sense," wrote Hedlund, in an email to Resource Recycling.
RAA had originally launched a website in September of last year that allowed anyone to download and print the 21 labels for recycling collection. However, the organization later changed its tack. RAA now no longer permits people to download the labels after discovering that they were being altered or were becoming faded and ripped. Now if a church, school business or other institution wants them they have to pony up $1.33 a piece for each of the 8 ½ by 5 ½ inch labels.
"Labels need to be taken seriously and they need to be effective and clean and withstand use in order to be effective," said Hedlund, who explained her organization does not want the labels to end up like the infamous "chasing arrows" icon that has become confusing or outright meaningless to the public.
She added that the labels, made by Screen Graphics, are sturdy enough to stay intact in both an Alaska winter and Arizona summer. She's also looking into getting grants lined up to make it easier for organizations to purchase them.
Hedlund said that RAA is looking into getting the labels copyrighted and has a pro bono lawyer who will address errant use of them, although she hopes it wouldn't come to that.
"We're not chasing anybody, certainly but we do feel the importance of protecting the standardization," she said.
Now that RAA has a better system in place to distribute the labels, Hedlund said she begin doing more aggressive outreach to get the word out to make them more universal. She also said she'll be a presence at upcoming conferences like the Residential Recycling Conference that was held recently in Nashville, Tennessee.
So far, the labels are being used by at least one organization in all 50 states, according to Hedlund, and are getting interest in the UK, Canada and Australia. She also noted that retail giant Target was involved in the process of developing them, and Republic Services, a waste hauling company, has signed on to use them. Hedlund has also seen additional interest from state recycling associations and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, among others.
To go back to the Resource Recycling newsletter, click here.
To go back to the Plastics Recycling Update newsletter, click here.