I bought organic cotton sheets last week, and was glad to see they were packaged in recycled cardboard — or so I thought. Take a closer look (in the bottom left):
Yep – that’s recyclable, not recycled. (Actually, close reader, it says “recyclabe,” which doesn’t exactly give me faith…) Most good greenies – myself included – have probably been duped by a product featuring the recycled logo.
The well-known three-arrow-triangle is used for two different things. And it’s important to know the difference.
Recycled Content. First, this logo is used to identify products that are made with recycled content. When you’re shopping, this logo tells you if something is made with recycled content, and how much. It indicates, literally, if your newspaper had a former life as printer paper, was recycled, ground up, and made into the product before you. In the US, the word “recycled” is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), so it’s as trustworthy as any marketing claim.
Newspapers, cereal boxes, and egg cartons are almost always made using recycled paper content. When you’re buying paper, cardboard, or just about anything packaged in a carton or plastic, it’s good to find something made using recycled material. (It’s just a better way to make stuff!)
Recyclable Content. Second, the logo is used to help classify stuff that can be recycled when you’re done with it. Most prominently, it’s placed on the bottom of many plastic bottles, to help you figure out if you can recycle it where you live. That’s good to know, and we’re glad the label is used. (Read more about the plastic recycling symbols and their meaning here.)
However, there’s one insidious angle to this. Watch out when you are looking for a product made from recycled content, like printer paper or cardboard boxes. Some marketers are hoping to fool you with “recyclable” where you expect “recycled.” And unfortunately your “recyclable” paper might have been a mahogany tree in a rainforest last month.
“Recyclable” puts the burden on us, the consumers: this product might get recycled, but only if the proper recycling systems are available, and if you make use of them. The term does have an FTC-defined legal meaning, and if a product is only recyclable in certain towns and cities, the product now has to indicate “This product is recyclable only in the few communities that have appropriate recycling programs.” We’re thankful for those labeling requirements.
But here’s the lesson for would-be green buyers like you and me: if you’re hoping to buy something made from recycled content, look closely. And don’t let “recyclable” fool you.
Photo credit: Author; Flickr user Dominicotine