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UN Report Calls for More Uniform Information on Plastic Packaging

Woman holding box of recycling

Clearer communication of sustainability efforts with regards to plastic packaging are needed to help con­sumers make better decisions and lead the way to a more circular plastics economy. This is among the conclusions of a joint report from the United National Environment Programme (UNEP), Consumers International, and One Planet, titled “Can I Recycle This?” A Global Mapping and Assessment of Standards, Labels and Claims on Plastic Packaging.

Noting that globally, only about 9% of plastic waste is currently recycled and about 12% is incinerated, the report’s authors conducted a global mapping and assessment of information about materials, production, recyclability, and disposal that can be found on plastic packaging for consumer goods and food and beverage products. The report includes five recommendations (listed below) to create more effective on-package communications and, thereby, “empower consumers to be active partners in the transition to more sustainable consumption and production patterns and a circular economy.”

  • All labels and claims on plastic packaging should follow the five principles in Guidelines for Providing Product Sustainability Information, published in 2017 by UNEP and the International Trade Center (ITC).
  • Definitions about the content and reusability of plastic packaging need to be harmonized globally.
  • The definitions and technical requirements used in standards related to recyclability, compostability, and biodegradability should better reflect real world conditions and be more attentive to accessi­bility and consumer understanding.
  • The ‘chasing arrows’ symbol should only be used to indicate recyclability.
  • Informative and verified recycling labels should be adopted and their proper use enforced.