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5 Minute Guide to Recycle Symbols

July 11, 2018

We all experience it - that awkwardly familiar feeling of wanting to do something good by recycling, then spending far too long looking back and forth between the "trash" bin and the "recycling" bin, and finally letting the item slip ever so slowly, with zero percent confidence, into whichever black hole we decided on that day. Being savvy with the recycle symbols and knowing what goes where is no easy feat, but it is the first step to success.

The main goal of Savanna’s are to prevent pollution and reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, so we're no strangers to the benefits of recycling, but here's a quick refresh anyway:

Conserving natural resources, increasing economic security, saving energy, and creating jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries. However, knowing what to recycle and what not to, how to recycle items properly, and even where to recycle items... it’s a bit overwhelming and challenging at times. Recycling programs are managed at the state and local levels, which can add to confusion when programs differ from one town to the next.

Hope for the everyday consumer comes in the form of recycling symbols.

The basic recycling symbol that we are all familiar with (the continuous triangle-shaped loop) just indicates that an item can be be recycled.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean your local community recycling program accepts that item or that it can be recycled through curbside pickup. Take a minute to google your local recycling program to check their process.


According to the EPA website, in 2014 Americans generated 33 million tons of plastics. That was nearly 4 years ago so you can imagine where we’re at now. While plastic is one of the most common types of recyclables, some types are recycled more because they’re more widely accepted by recycling programs. To try to help consumers identify the kind of plastic resin used to make the container and determine if the container can be accepted by your local recycling program, plastic manufacturers created a chart of symbols (shown above) which can be found on the bottom of plastic bottles and containers.

But real talk, those symbols are easy to miss and when you’re busy or in a rush, researching what number three inside the recycling triangle really means, let alone taking it to a special place to recycle it just isn’t in the cards.

We’re right there with you, and have great news.


 In 2008, the How2Recycle label system was created by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition in the hopes of providing consistent, standardized, on-package recycling information for consumers.  Partnering with many recognizable brands, How2Recycle has been able to label packaging in a way that is clear and easy to understand for the average consumer. The labels explain how to prepare the item for recycling, whether an item can be recycled traditionally or not, the type of recyclable material, and the format of the recyclable material.

While the How2Recycle labels are pretty straightforward, here are a few guidelines on how to read the labels when deciding how to recycle items.  The top section provides directions on how to prepare the item for recycling. The large middle sections indicates whether an item is widely recycled, not yet recycled, or if a consumer needs to check locally to see if the item can be recycled where they live or if they should take it to a store drop off to be recycled.  The next section tells the type of recyclable material, and the bottom section tells a consumer which part of the packaging the label is referring to.

It seriously is pretty straightforward.  I took a look through my “put in recycling” pile on my kitchen counter and found a few of the How2Recycle labels.  A box of vanilla wafers had two labels, one for the cardboard packaging and one for the bag from inside the box. The labels clearly tell me that the box is paper and can be recycled.  The second label, which is for the bag that was inside the box, informs me that the bag is a multi-layer material and is not yet currently recycled. On my milk jug, a quick glance at the label tells me to empty the container and replace the cap, that it is made of plastic, and is widely recycled.

The effort of individual recycling may at times seem small, but each small action makes one big difference. Recycling labels and symbols are on items that are a part of our everyday lives. If we take a moment to educate ourselves, and make it a habit to simply pay attention to them, we can make steps toward being intelligent and responsible consumers.

 


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