November 7, 2012

Liz Swafford: New labels make recycling more effective

— Packaging. It’s everywhere — in your bathroom, kitchen, office, under the sink, in the garage, and in 99 percent of the stores you shop at. Cardboard boxes that hold a pizza from the deli waiting to be baked; paperboard boxes full of tissues for sneezing noses; glass jars with creamy alfredo sauce, mushrooms or pickles; plastic bottles filled with gel, shampoo, body wash, laundry detergent or window cleaner.

There’s so much of it that packaging and containers make up 30.3 percent of our municipal solid waste in the United States by weight, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2010. Forty-eight percent of that was recycled in 2010. But, considering there were 76 million tons of it produced, we still have quite a long way to go to reach 100 percent recycled in this category.

Thankfully, the vast majority of packaging is made with recyclable materials — paper, glass, plastic, aluminum and steel. However, containers and packaging come in all different shapes and sizes that may or may not be recyclable or made from recycled materials. To help consumers purchase recyclable items, and ultimately recycle them, manufacturers are voluntarily adding standardized, and easy to understand, recycling labels to their products.   Two of those are Aldi’s Our Little Green Box and the newer How2Recycle label.

Our Little Green Box recycling labels can be found on products sold in Aldi grocery stores, including the one here in Dalton. This is part of Aldi’s corporate responsibility policy, which seeks to reduce the effect it has on the environment while encouraging its customers to do so as well. The recycling label is white with black text and a green border with a white text heading that reads “packaging.” Below that is a section titled “recyclable,” indicating what type of packaging the product is contained in, and the appropriate recycling symbol. A jar, for example, indicates a glass jar, while carton refers to paperboard boxes. Depending on the product, another section of the label indicates what percentage of the carton is made from recyclable materials.

In the U.S. a new initiative called How2Reycle seeks to standardize recycling labels across a variety of manufacturers. The recycling label program is currently in a soft launch period with companies like ConAgra Foods, REI, Mattel Inc. and Target. According to, “the How2Recycle Label was created to provide consistent and transparent on-package recycling information to consumers.”

The black and white label includes the type of material that is recyclable while going a step further, giving detailed instructions on how to prepare the item for recycling. For example, a label for a plastic spray bottle includes an instructions tag that reads “empty & re-attached sprayer.” Another benefit is the addition of the phrases “check locally” for items like plastic food trays that are not recycled in all areas, and “store drop-off” for plastic bags and film that can be recycled by retail and grocery stores.

Understanding a recycling label is the first step in getting 100 percent of packaging and containers recycled. The next challenge is learning whether or not a particular item is recyclable where you live. All communities have different types of recycling programs based on the capacity of the facilities available. In Whitfield County we can recycle mixed paper products, glass bottles and jars, aluminum beverage cans, plastic bottles and jugs, and bi-metal cans. To find out where you can drop off your recyclable items locally, visit or call (706) 278-5001. For other areas, visit


Liz Swafford is the recycling and education program coordinator for the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority. Call her at (706) 278-5001 or email