Recycling 101: Removing Labels on Plastic Containers

Recycling. We all do it. At least we all should be doing it. Recycling our household waste, including paper, metal, and plastic packaging, saves an enormous amount of energy and water if those materials are incorporated into new products. Unfortunately, some companies make recycling their products' packaging more difficult than it needs to be. Case in point: Plastic label wraps on plastic containers.

Simple Tip: Remove the Label

Plastic Label Recycling

For a long time, most plastic packaging had their labels printed or painted right onto their plastic surface. Recycling these containers was simple: rinse them out and put them in the recycling bin.

Starting several years ago, many companies started to change their packaging by switching to shrunk-wrap labels on their plastic packaging rather than printing right on the plastic itself.

Why are they doing this? It's probably marketing. The truth is that these shiny shrink-wrap labels are very bright and showy, much more so than simply printing on the bottle or container itself.

The problem? The type of plastic used to make these wrap labels isn't the type of plastic that is easily recyclable. They need to be removed before recycling, or they jeopardize the recyclability of the entire package. What does this mean? It means that there's a decent chance that the label-wrapped plastic containers you're taking care to put in the recycling bin ultimately ends up in the landfill.

The solution? It's simple. Cut the label off the bottle before you recycle it. It's true, it is a bit of a pain to go through the extra step of cutting plastic wraps off, and it stinks that this plastic ends up in the landfill, but it's important to increase the chances of your recycling actually being recycled.

The key is to look at the recycling code on your plastic packages. Most of them will now have a graphic similar to the one in the photo above with a circle and line through the recycling symbol for the label, as well as written instructions telling you to remove the label prior to recycling. It's important to do this!

It's unfortunate that companies make the consumer jump through these types of hoops in order to recycle their products' packaging. They should be making every effort to make recycling as simple as possible, but until that magical day, the onus is on us to make sure we're doing whatever is necessary to increase our recycling rates.

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