Coffee cups to have “specialist” recycling label

Food and drink packaging will now come with a binary “recycle” or “don’t recycle” label. This will replace the current format – “recycled”, “check local recycling” and “not yet recycled” – which was found to be too confusing.

Single-use cups will join the “specialist label” list for packaging that can be recycled at “bring sites” or “front of store”. At least 75% of the population must have access to these collection points. Drinks cartons and PE films already have this label.

The On Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) group said the cup label would help to boost in-store collections for recycling. Currently, 4% of single-use cups are recycled, according to the Paper Cup Recycling and Recovery Group.

In consumer testing “Recycle at coffee shop” had the highest score for clarity. OPRL noted in its review of its labeling scheme that: “Letting people know that they can use any coffee shop and not just the one in which they originally purchased could add clarity to the label.”

The final label design says: “Recycle at coffee shop or recycling point.”

The Foodservice Packaging Association welcomed the new approach to labelling. The new binary label “provides much needed clarity and simplicity and it is very hard to imagine any consumer took the previous advice to ‘check locally’ so thankfully this option has been removed”, a spokesman said.

He added that the specialist label for paper cups “recognises the huge progress retailers and cup suppliers have made in collecting and recycling used cups”.

Other changes to on pack recycling labels include:

  • PVC and PS are now classified as unrecyclable (which is in line with the UK Plastic Pact);
  • cPET and coloured aPET/rPET are now classified as recyclable;
  • near Infra-Red (NIR) detectability is “critical” for plastics – non-detectable polymers are now classified unrecyclable;
  • tolerance levels for barrier coatings on card reduce to 15% now and to 10% from January 2023.

OPRL said the changes are expected to “drive more rapid switching into sustainable packaging ahead of Extended Producer Responsibility reforms as new labels are applied over the next three years”.

The government is currently considering a mandatory labelling scheme using OPRL as a starting point.

The review of OPRL involved “extensive data and evidence, wide consultations and consumer testing”, including three consumer insight studies and a number of technical advisors, reviewers and steering groups. “The new labels have been tested extensively with consumers so that the designs are most likely to engage them effectively in recycling,” according to the website.

Stuart Lendrum, chair of the steering group and OPRL board director, said the new labelling “will deliver our commitment to give consumers clarity on the true recyclability of packaging”.

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