What Does the Widely Recycled Label Mean on Plastics

The plastics industry has recently come under fire for implementing new policies relating to the ‘Widely Recycled’ and ‘Check Locally’ labels found on plastics. The former label is receiving the most criticism because so few consumer plastics are actually recycled. Knowing what we know about plastic recycling, what does ‘Widely Recycled’ even mean?

The two labels are the property of How2Recycle, a consortium made up of corporations involved in plastics and manufacturing. How2Recycle has implemented a rather detailed labeling system designed to give consumers a better idea of when and how to recycle plastics.

Here at Seraphim Plastics, we don’t deal in consumer recycling. We only recycle industrial scrap plastic. Still, the How2Recycle labels can be on some of the products we purchase. The labels don’t mean much to us for obvious reasons. Yet they do matter at the consumer level.

What They Mean for Plastic Recycling

‘Widely Recycled’ and ‘Check Locally’ are two labels meant to replace the standard numbering system that so many Americans are used to. If your community participates in plastic recycling, you likely need to separate plastics by number. You only recycle the numbers that your hauler is willing to pick up.

How2Recycle came up with an alternative labeling system given that the numbering system isn’t always reliable. A product labeled as ‘Widely Recycled’ can supposedly go into any municipal recycling bin because the chances of it being recycled are fairly high.

On the other hand, the ‘Check Locally’ label ostensibly tells consumers that a plastic product may or may not be recycled by their program. They are supposed to check with the local government for their waste haulers for guidance.

Other Parts of the Label

We would like to point out that the ‘Widely Recycled’ and ‘Check locally’ designations are not all you find on How2Recycle labels. In fact, you can visit the organization’s website and see the entire breakdown of what each label component means.

A typical label is divided into four sections. The top section offers cues telling consumers how to prepare a particular product for recycling. If the label says ‘Rinse & Insert Lid’, the consumer is supposed to rinse the lid off and then insert it into the plastic container prior to tossing it in the recycling bin.

The second section is where you’ll find the ‘Widely Recycled’ and ‘Check Locally’ designations. There are two others: ‘Not Yet Recycled’ and ‘Store Drop-Off’. This section simply tells you how to recycle a product.

The final two sections designate material and form factor. You might see ‘Metal’ and ‘Can’ or ‘Plastic’ and ‘Tray’. Combining the two is self-explanatory. Why that information is necessary is unclear.

Designed to Make Plastic Recycling Easier

How2Recycle’s position is that their labeling system makes plastic recycling easier. If it does, it is only to the extent that the labels help consumers and recyclers more quickly distinguish one material from the next. But the labeling system does nothing to alleviate the biggest pain point of consumer recycling: sorting.

We make good money recycling things like plastic purge and cutoffs. We can buy and sell scrap plastic in a financially sustainable way primarily because we don’t have to sort materials. All the recyclable materials we purchase from customers are already sorted. They are also free from contamination.

Consumer recyclers face a much more challenging situation because they need to sort and clean what comes to them. Residential recycling programs haven’t failed financially due to a poor labeling system. They have failed due to the costly nature of sorting and cleaning. Solve that problem and residential recycling can be as profitable as its industrial counterpart.