A Users Guide to the Language of Recycling
Its no secret
that consumers are interested in buying products that are kind to the environment. But
when it comes to recycling, can you heed what you read?
The Federal Trade Commission, which seeks to protect
consumers from deceptive and unsubstantiated advertising, says claims on products and
packaging about recyclability and recycled content may be misunderstood. Heres what
the FTC wants consumers to know:
- A product or package can be marketed as
"recyclable" if it can be separated and collected from household and commercial
trash for reuse, or to make another product or package, through an established recycling
- Product labels that say "Please Recycle" are
relevant only if your community collects the products for recyclingand meaningless
if it doesnt. Contact your city or county government to find out about curbside
pick-up or drop-off alternatives for recycling plastic, glass, metal, and newspapers and
other paper products.
- Sometimes, businesses recycle products for you. For
example, many grocery stores take back their plastic grocery bags. And some manufacturers
of toner cartridges have programs that allow consumers to return their empty cartridges,
which are then re-used for remanufacturing.
- Manufacturers and marketers may claim that a product or
package has recycled content if it is made with materials that have been recovered or
separated from the trash during the manufacturing process (pre-consumer) or after consumer
use (post-consumer). Previously used newspapers, shipping cartons, plastic bottles, glass
containers, and metal cans are considered post-consumer waste. Leftover manufacturing
scrapsfor example, the scraps left over when envelopes are cut from paperare
considered pre-consumer waste.
- Recycled products are made from products that have been
melted down or ground up and made into new products. Or they may have been made from
materials that are used, reconditioned or remanufactured. If a product is labeled recycled
because it contains used, reconditioned or remanufactured parts, the label also must say
the product is "used," "reconditioned" or "remanufactured"
unless that fact is obvious to the buyer.
- If a label says "recycled," it must tell the
percentage of recycled contentunless its 100 percent.
- Certain symbols placed on consumer products mean that you
may be able to recycle the product or packagedepending on your communitys
programor that the product or package is made from recycled materials.
||This universal recycling symbol means that the product is
both recyclable and made of recycled materials. If only one of these claims is true, the
manufacturer should say which one.
||Manufacturers use this look-alike symbol, developed by
the Society of the Plastics Industry, to indicate the type of plastic used for the
packaging. SPI code numbers range from 1 to 7. Check with your local recycling office to
find out which codes are acceptable for recycling in your community. Not all
communities collect and recycle containers with the same codes.
The bottom line:
Every community has its own recycling program. Just because a product or package carries
the universal recycling symbol or says its recyclable doesnt mean it will be
collected for recycling in your neighborhood. To help your community save the
time and money it spends separating the items it recycles from the ones it doesnt,
find out which are appropriate for the recycling bins. If you have questions about a
particular item, check with your local recycling office.
The FTC works for the consumer to
prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the
marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and
avoid them. To file a
complaint or to get free information
on consumer issues, visit
call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The
FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related
Consumer Sentinel, a
secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law
enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
FOR THE CONSUMER