Recycling 101, lesson 1 – in which we discover that everything we thought was true, is in fact a lie…..

I thought I would do a little series on my recycling research. I know the jury is well and truly out now on whether recycling is in fact a massive waste of time, but I think people are unlikely to stop at least attempting to recycle some of their waste. Recycling is obviously the best solution if reuse and refusal are not feasible, so we might as well educate ourselves to make sure we’re doing it right.

This is “the green dot”. Did you think it meant that the packaging was recyclable? So did I, until pretty recently when I saw Sisters Against Plastic‘s post about it on Facebook. What it actually means is that the manufacturer makes a financial contribution towards the cost of recovery and recycling of waste. It seems to be misleading, not only because of how similar it looks to other recycling symbols, but also because the fee is waived for companies registered with packaging compliance schemes. The fee for small businesses is currently £295 +VAT per annum for small businesses, with approx 200 of these registered. So that’s £59,000 per year income for Valpak, the UK administrator of the Green Dot scheme on behalf of PRO Europe, who manage the Green Dot trademark worldwide. I’m probably missing the point here as it’s a hugely complex industry, but this doesn’t seem like a particularly significant sum of money and I would hazard a guess that it’s mainly used to administrate the scheme. Either way, I think it’s reasonable to surmise that it’s a fairly meaningless symbol when trying to work out what’s recyclable.

I believed that my shampoo and conditioner bottles were recyclable because this symbol is on them. But are they? They also have these symbols on them (does anyone know how to insert two images next to each other in WordPress? It’s driving me nuts…)

The HDPE one means it’s made of high-density polythylene, which apparently is the Meryl Streep of plastics, versatile and popular. Good because it is lightweight and strong, therefore has replaced heavier packaging options and is in theory better for the environment in some ways, as reduces the amount of packaging waste overall and is more energy-efficient to transport. It can be recycled, into for example storage containers, outdoor furniture and playground equipment, car parts and bins. This is an interesting and not too sciency article about HDPE and how it’s recycled.

The 12 M symbol has nothing to do with plastic type or recycling, and is actually a “period-after-opening” symbol – which is “an indication of the period of time after opening for which the product can be used without any harm to the consumer”. So I can safely use my shampoo for 12 months before it explodes, which is good to know. It seems not all cosmetics packaging is required to carry this labelling, because the product will not deteriorate in normal use – e.g. aerosols and perfume. More info here about cosmetics packaging – you absolutely do learn something new every day!

So putting my shampoo bottles in the blue bin hasn’t in fact been wish cycling – a common phenomenon where we put things into the recycling that we’re not sure about, and hope for the best. When they run out though, I will be looking into plastic-free shampoo and conditioner bars, so will be looking for recommendations on brands which will not make me look like Worzel Gummidge.

More on wish-cycling and plastic labelling in lesson 2.