OPRL launches new labelling rules

The On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) has launched its new recycling label rules, moving the majority of packaging into a binary labelling system: ‘Recycle’ or ‘Don’t Recycle’.

OPRL's 'Recycle' and 'Don't Recycle' labels

The new labels – which will be applied over the next three years – will aim to reduce consumer confusion and provide greater transparency on what gets recycled, with the ‘Recycle’ labels indicating that 75 per cent or more of UK local authorities will collect and recycle that type of packaging, and the ‘Don’t Recycle’ labels signifying that fewer than 50 per cent of local authorities collect and recycle the packaging type.

Three plastic polymer types will move from ‘Check Locally’ to ‘Recycle’ labels, whilst two polymers that are widely collected but mainly landfilled or incinerated moving from ‘Check Locally’ to ‘Don’t Recycle’.

Under the new rules, coated paper and card quality tolerances will be tightened to a maximum of 15 per cent plastic by weight for the ‘Recycle’ status, reducing further to 10 per cent in January 2023. Coffee cups will also be given a specialist label to support in-store collections for recycling.

A handful of fully recyclable packaging types where collections fall between 50 to 75 per cent of local authorities will retain the intermediary ‘Check Home Collections’ status.

Review process

The new rules follow a comprehensive review process by OPRL’s Steering Group, made up of technical experts from academia, NGOs and industry, which gathered extensive data and evidence from consultations and consumer testing.

Commenting on the review process, Stuart Lendrum, Chair of the Steering Group and OPRL Ltd Board director, said: “This has been the most inclusive, extensive and rigorous review to date of our recycling labelling rules. We’ve gathered together a broad and diverse array of expertise and evidence and subjected it to scrutiny and challenge by respected figures from inside the industry and beyond. I’m massively grateful to everyone who has contributed.

“The results deliver our commitment to give consumers clarity on the true recyclability of packaging. As part of that commitment to transparency and accountability, we are making our evidence base publicly available today. As further new evidence becomes available, we will fine-tune these Rules so that we reflect the UK’s developing recycling technology and infrastructure, and further refining of industry technical standards.”

Reflecting on the new binary labels, Carole Taylor, Chair of the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) and Steering Group member, commented: “LARAC welcomes the move to a new binary system for recycling labels, which will be clearer and simpler for consumers to understand and should help to improve the quality and quantity of recycling collected by local authorities. Reducing non-target materials and contamination in the recycling we collect is very important to ensure costs to councils are minimised.”

EPR for packaging

OPRL states that the changes will drive the transition towards more sustainable packaging, ahead of the implementation of an extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging in 2023.

With consumer confusion remaining a barrier to achieving high recycling rates, the government’s response to its consultation on EPR, published in July, proposed the introduction of a mandatory packaging labelling scheme to simplify the recycling process, noting that 90 per cent of consultation respondents were in support of a mandatory obligation on producers to label their packaging as recyclable or not recyclable.  

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