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Earth911 Special Report: Labeling

This report addresses the issues inherent in industry-standard labeling of consumer products for recycling and proposes an end-of-life communications solution. The labeling strategies referred to in this paper are those intended to demonstrate commitment to product stewardship and increase recycling participation by informing consumers on two vital pieces of information about an item:

1. Is there a local recycling market; and,

2. What steps are required to recycle it?

Lack of information and confusion are among the greatest contributors to the currently stagnant recycling rate (under 35 percent) in the U.S. In general, communication is at the pinnacle of complexities in recycling. Every touchpoint with consumers has potential to motivate, change behavior, build loyalty and cause confusion. By the time a product has been selected, purchased, used and reaches its end of life, a consumer has been exposed to multiple messages about an item. Problems arise when the messages are mixed, inconsistent, incomplete, vague, wrong and/or misleading, which they frequently are. For example, many marks indicate the environmental impact of a product (made with recyclable or recycled materials, environmentally friendly, etc.) but may not convey that an item is able to be recycled. There are over 600 (1) such marks known to be in use, so the potential for confusion and misinterpretation is high.

The Earth911 Recycling Directory, which is the backbone of the Earth911 Recycling Locator, delivers information on recycling anywhere and anytime through multiple interfaces including websites, mobile and traditional phone lines. Through this report, Earth911 seeks to motivate brand owners, CPCs, and those with a stake in the sustainability initiatives of their companies to create a streamlined communication process about product end-of-life through a centralized resource.


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