Woolworths new packaging labels promote efficient consumer recycling

Woolworths has recently introduced On-Pack Recycling Labels (OPRL’s) to help their customers to easily identify the recyclability of the packaging of products purchased from their South African stores with the overall goal of enhancing the South African recycling sector.  The Woolworths OPRL initiative was introduced in November 2013 and forms part of their Good Business Journey sustainability programme. Woolworths hopes to have the new labels on at least 20% of its products by March 2014.

Existing recycling labels confusing for customers

Woolworths recognised the need to develop the OPRL’s after receiving customer feedback that existing recycling labels on packaging were confusing. This is because traditionally recycling labels have been designed for waste collectors and separators, not for customers. Woolworths discovered that most of their customers were unaware that current technological and infrastructure restraints in the South African recycling sector mean that not all packaging with material symbols can be recycled. In addition, customers were unknowingly contaminating recyclable material by not disposing of their recyclable waste correctly. For example some packaging needs to be separated into different waste components so that each component can be successfully recycled, if it is not separated out the entire amount of recyclable waste can be contaminated and thus sent to landfill.

New icons on packaging

Woolworths believes the new OPRL’s will improve South Africa’s recycling and resource recovery rates as current confusing symbols will be replaced by standardised simple icons. These icons will display the following information:

  • The source of the packaging material (including sustainable materials that were used in the packaging)
  • The different components of the packaging (i.e. tray, sleeve etc.)
  • The packaging material type per component (i.e. plastic, paper etc.)
  • Whether the packaging is widely recycled in South Africa or not (See Figure below).

Diagram of the various On-Pack Recycling Labels (Source: Woolworths)
Diagram of the various On-Pack Recycling Labels (Source: Woolworths)

Kiril Dimitrov, Woolworths Foods Packaging Manager, says that their aim is that the  OPRL’s will become the standard on all South African packaging so that recycling rates can be improved nationally, “using the same icons on packaging designs across the retail and waste management sector will improve the rate of recycling by making it easier for customers to participate”. Dimitrov adds that “most of our customers want to recycle; these labels make it easier for them to make informed decisions”.

Bertie Lourens, Managing Director of WastePlan adds that consumer-friendly recycling labels will help to boost the local recycling industry, “We’ve seen many kerb-side recycling initiatives in the sector fail due to increasing transport and labour costs which combine to make the service uneconomical. As customers become more informed about recycling, more people will participate and the quality of material collected will improve”.

Charles Muller of the Packaging Council of South Africa (PACSA) commends Woolworths for their efforts and states that “this new label design shows leading retailers are prepared to go above and beyond what is expected of them to support customers’ environmental efforts. We’re encouraged to see Woolworths taking the first step and calling on the rest of the industry to follow suit”.

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