OPRL’s new recycling labelling rules are transformational. They raise the bar both in calling out what gets recycled and what doesn’t, and in ensuring a rigorous evidence base that protects brand value. At a time when consumers are not just vocal but increasingly taking action over excessive and badly designed packaging, that assurance is not to be sniffed at.
By going binary on all but a handful of exceptional packaging types, the new rules make it crystal clear whether packaging will form part of the circular economy, or if it is destined for landfill or incineration. Extensive consumer insight work has pared back messaging to clear calls to action: ‘Recycle’ or ‘don’t recycle’. And recycling tips like ‘cap on’ or ‘insert straw’ help capture smaller components often lost. LARAC (the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee) expects the impact on recycling rates and quality to be significant.
The new rules also deliver the labelling vision set out in the UK government’s joint extended producer responsibility (EPR) consultation, well ahead of legislation. Since assessments of recyclability are based on hard data on collections, plus respected industry guidance on what’s successfully separated at materials recycling facilities and reprocessed for established recyclate markets, the alignment with EPR rules is likely to be strong. That puts OPRL members on the front foot, ensuring their packaging ranges are ready for the new regulations.
We don’t subscribe to the view that plastic is evil – far from it, plastic packaging is key to reducing climate-damaging food waste – but we do think there are bad polymer choices and bad packaging designs. Our new rules apply Plastics Pact guidance to accelerate the elimination of unrecyclable PVC, polystyrene and undetectable black and other coloured plastics. We know brands and retailers want to show they’re making the right choices and that highly visible labelling has helped make the case internally for changing materials. An evidenced ‘recycle’ label rewards ‘good behaviour’ by signalling corporate responsibility to customers.
Some brands have been lured into switching to packaging formats that consumers find reassuring but may, in fact, be less recyclable than the plastic packs they replace. Compostable plastics aren’t collected for recycling. Others contain ‘hidden’ plastic coatings so unsuspecting consumers treat them as paper or card, potentially contaminating recycling streams. We’ve worked with CPI (Confederation of Paper Industries) and Wrap to understand how to deliver the ambitious 5% plastic ceiling they set out last February. More needs to be understood about the food safety and protection aspects of these packs. Meanwhile, we’re starting the journey by immediately reducing the ceiling from 20% to 15% and setting a clear marker for a further reduction to 10% by 2023. Many will move immediately to this, halving plastic use in the very near future.
Our new rules deliver sustainability now, supporting brand and retailer commitments.