Suez has proposed mandatory on-pack ‘eco-labelling’ using a combined colour and number system to end confusion among consumers about what can be recycled.
It said the lack of consistent, universal guidance prevented people from recycling and making more sustainable shopping choices.
Consumers told Suez at workshops that they wanted a ‘traffic light’ system with symbols to show them how and whether a product could be recycled.
Suez said a numbering system was being discussed within the industry and it had tried to combine both.
This uses a traffic light coloured version of the familiar Mobius recycling loop to show whether a product can be recycled easily, using green for the easiest and red for the least.
Each product category would also be assigned a permanent number to be used on recycling containers across the country.
Businesses and councils would simply label their containers with the relevant numbers, rather than have to harmonise hundreds of different systems by introducing new containers and infrastructure, something Suez noted said many councils opposed.
Such a colour and number system could replace on-pack labels. Some consumers said at workshops that “a shopping basket full of red-label goods would be embarrassing at the checkout”, while others felt that a red label would, over time, damage a brand’s reputation.
David Palmer-Jones, chief executive of Suez Recycling and Recovery UK, said: “For years now, manufacturers, retailers, councils and waste managers have heard from consumers that they find the nation’s ‘binfrastructure’ confusing – a view supported by our recent research.
“There have been numerous calls for harmonisation to help us all recycle but [there is] also understandable resistance to this, largely due to the cost, complexity and impracticalities involved in changing systems.”
Palmer-Jones said the colour and number combination would “allow consumers to make better choices and be clearer about recycling without the excessive cost that would be involved in a mass replacement of bins”.
He explained: “Under this system, it would no longer matter what colours or shapes your bins are, and we will all continue to use what we have – but with clear instructions on the packet to make recycling simple and help us make informed shopping choices.”