Ace In The Hole

Stuart Pritchard April 20, 2017




MANDY KELLY, Senior Recycling Manager for ACE UK, explains how clear labelling plays a key part in driving up recycling rates for packaging…

We are all aware that recycling rates have been plateauing, and even in some areas declining – but is there anything retailers and manufacturers can do to help address this? The answer is, of course, yes. Good information, such as clear and simple labelling, makes it much easier for consumers to recycle and can really help to increase recycling rates. The Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE UK), as a supporter of OPRL Ltd which runs the UK’s on-pack recycling label scheme, sees clear and consistent on-pack labelling as vital in providing consumers with the information they need.

To this end, OPRL recently announced a new look for on-pack recycling labels, making them simpler for consumers to understand and easier for retailers and manufacturers to use. The new labels use shorter, more immediate language, for example ‘Check Local Recycling’ has been changed to ‘Check Locally’, and ‘Not Currently Recycled’ to ‘Not Yet Recycled’. This enables bold text to be used without increasing label size, making the information more prominent.


Alongside effective labelling it is also important that consumers have regular and clear communication about

Clear communication is vital in avoiding a decline in recycling

recycling. Recent studies have shown a strong correlation between easy to understand information, active communications and recycling engagement from households. Unfortunately, many local authorities have had to cut communications budgets to save costs and preserve front line services and this is starting to impact on recycling rates.

This is where industry can help. In 2016 we worked as part of a landmark collaboration across the whole supply chain within the recycling industry, led by WRAP, to produce new recycling guidelines, which help to provide real clarity around what can and cannot be recycled. This in turn led to WRAP publishing a ‘Framework for greater consistency in household recycling in England’, which aims to optimise a standard core set of materials into fewer collection and sorting systems.

As part of this initiative, WRAP created a £1 million fund to support local authorities in England to review their own consistency in recycling collection services.  This covers the framework core materials, including food and drink cartons, and is designed to reduce confusion in UK households and ensure that all items that can be recycled are being collected for onward reprocessing.


Alongside this, ACE UK is also doing its bit to support councils by providing free communications materials to help them engage residents in recycling. Through our re:cartons toolkit  we have created a number of downloadable

Kerbside carton collection

resources to assist with carton recycling, designed to support local authorities and community recycling networks.

Clear labelling and good communications can really help in the battle to arrest declining recycling rates but the final piece in the puzzle is consistent collection regimes. It is widely acknowledged that countries with the highest recycling rates are those with standardised collection regimes, providing clarity for the public around what can be recycled and where. For example, in those countries in the EU that have clear methods of separation for waste, beverage carton recycling rates are as high as 70%.

Here in the UK we have a very disparate infrastructure for recycling. Each local authority has its own system, making it difficult for residents to be confident about what they can recycle, how and where. Collection consistency across the UK would help to reduce this confusion and increase engagement.

Regular collection keeps recycling rates high

Scotland and Wales have both seen improvements in recycling rates since the launch of the Scottish Household Waste Charter and the Collaborative Change Programme, which have been designed to harmonise recycling collections. In England, with the recycling rate having fallen for the first time, the ‘Framework for greater consistency in household recycling in England’ has the potential to reverse the trend, as in Scotland and Wales, if communicated effectively. An example of how this could be achieved will be seen later in the year with the publication of WRAP’s food and drink cartons collection guide for local authorities, which has just been commissioned.


If we are to create a more sustainable and resource-efficient economy, we all need to play a part and retailers and manufacturers can contribute through clear on-pack labelling and good communication around how and where packaging can be recycled.

Simplifying recycling for residents across the country, and making it easier to sort and improve the quality of recycling, is vitally important if we are to halt the decline in recycling we are seeing across the UK and help drive recycling rates up to potentially match the best results elsewhere in Europe.