LABELS WITH SEPARATION INFORMATION ON PACKAGING HELP THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY
There is a saying that states: A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That also applies to material cycles. After all, the best design for recycling and the most efficient recycling processes won’t help if it isn’t possible to properly recycle materials that have been used only once. Such recycling requires appropriate collection systems, on the one hand, and aware consumers who separate packaging waste as intended, on the other.
As in many areas, the ideal and reality are unfortunately far apart. Packaging is too often disposed of incorrectly, is merely directed towards thermal recovery and therefore removed from the cycle or – worse still – it ends up as waste in the environment. While part of the responsibility here naturally lies with consumers, packaging designers may also make an important contribution.
UP TO 40% IMPROVED SEPARATION RATE
Because as always: Knowledge is power. This is the result of an on-line survey of consumers in Germany conducted by Trennhinweis e.V., an NGO concerned with providing information for separating materials. The result in a nutshell: Feeds into correct streams for recyclables increase dramatically – in some cases by up to 40% – when packaging carries information about how to correctly separate materials.
Respondents were given the task of assigning different types of packaging to the correct waste stream. The NGO had deliberately chosen types of packaging that were known to cause problems: Bottle tops, an earthenware bottle and an empty lipstick. The effect achieved with information about separating was particularly apparent with the earthenware bottle. Here, the correct disposal rate increased from 5% to a whopping 45%. The increase for lipstick was 24% and 10% for bottle tops. A remarkable result for a relatively low effort by the manufacturer in any event.
ACTION REQUIRED BY LEGISLATORS
The results were even clearer for packaging that contained different components, such as a plastic package for pasta with paper labels. Two-thirds of consumers decided to dispose of the material correctly after watching a short explainer video – 68% more than in the control group that didn’t see the explainer video.
The most obvious thing that packaging businesses should take away from the survey, however, is the desire for uniform labelling. A total of 85% of the consumers surveyed would like to see standardised labels with information about separation while less than 10% believed that manufacturers should go it alone. “The YouGov survey not only showed that our information about separation provides effective information about the correct disposal of a wide variety of packaging, it also revealed that we’re also meeting the wishes and demands of consumers,” says Dr Alexandra Ranzinger, Chair of the Board of Trennhinweis e.V.
The NGO is not a lone voice. The Forum Rezyklat, which is an industrial association whose members include the Aldi Nord and Aldi Süd supermarket chains and the dm chain of chemist shops in Germany as well as such multinationals as Beiersdorf, Procter & Gamble and L'Oréal along with such NGOs as the WWF, called for a Europe-wide system of information about separation on packaging as early as November 2022.