U.S. companies use misleading “recyclable” labels on hundreds of plastic products

Washington, DC, Feb. 18, 2020 – Greenpeace USA released the results of a comprehensive survey of the nation’s 367 material recovery facilities (MRFs) today, revealing that only PET #1 and HDPE #2 plastic bottles and jugs may legitimately be labeled as recyclable by consumer goods companies and retailers. The survey found that common plastic pollution items, including plastic tubs, cups, lids, plates, and trays, may not be labeled as recyclable according to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requirements for products and labeling. Additionally, many full body shrink sleeves that are added to PET #1 and HDPE #2 bottles and jugs make those products non-recyclable as well.

“This survey confirms what many news reports have indicated since China restricted plastic waste imports two years ago — that recycling facilities across the country are not able to sort, sell, and reprocess much of the plastic that companies produce,” said Jan Dell, independent engineer and founder of The Last Beach Cleanup, who led the survey of plastics acceptance policies at the 367 MRFs.

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Greenpeace has identified numerous examples of U.S. companies using misleading labels. Target, Nestlé, Danone, Walmart, Procter & Gamble, Clorox, Aldi, SC Johnson, and Unilever are among the companies that Greenpeace has asked to correct their labels, and some changes are underway. If companies show no willingness to end this deception, the organization plans to file formal FTC complaints.

The survey revealed that many MRFs only accept two types of post-consumer plastic items — PET #1 and HDPE #2 bottles and jugs — because the items have sufficient market demand and domestic processing capacity. The survey found that plastics #3-7 cannot be labeled as recyclable because they have low acceptance by MRFs, minimal to negative material value, and negligible processing capacity in the U.S. Consumers cannot “check locally” on recyclability for #3-7 plastics, as many labels instruct, because those plastics are being sent to landfill or incinerator.

“Retailers and consumer goods companies across the country are frequently putting labels on their products that mislead the public and harm America’s recycling systems,” said Greenpeace USA Oceans Campaign Director John Hocevar. “Instead of getting serious about moving away from single-use plastic, corporations are hiding behind the pretense that their throwaway packaging is recyclable. We know now that this is untrue. The jig is up.”

The report states that most types of plastic packaging are economically impractical to recycle and are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Greenpeace is urging U.S. retailers and consumer goods companies to eliminate single-use consumer plastic, and to invest in reusable, refillable, and package-free approaches.

The report can be found here: https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/plastic_recycling