Poll: Shoppers Prefer Buying Goods With Clear Recycling Directions

March 31, 2022   |   Blog

Many Americans want to recycle, but it can be confusing. A new poll found that some Americans will go out of their way to purchase products that make recycling easier.

The poll, which was conducted by DS Smith, revealed that 63 percent of respondents reported that they are more likely to purchase a product that has clear recycling instructions – and for good reason. 

Recycling in America can sometimes feel like a riddle. You have to search the package for a tiny chasing arrows symbol, find the number, and then decipher what the number means. 

Plastics #1 and #2, often used in products like water bottles or milk jugs, can be recycled in almost any curbside program. Glass and plastic #5 can be recycled in some, but not all. And plastics #3, #4, #6, and #7 are almost always sent to the trash. (You can read more about each number here.) The poll revealed that nearly 60 percent of respondents reported that it can be difficult to find the recycling symbol on a package.

Who has time to play that game every time they want to recycle an item? 

Additionally, 62 percent reported that many recycling logos send mixed messages, e.g. a #6 plastic has the same recycling triangle logo as a #1 plastic. Along with the poll, DS Smith released their “dirty dozen” list which includes products that appear to be recyclable, but typically are not. 

One of the “dirty dozen” items was cartons. Cartons are difficult to recycle due to their use of multiple materials glued together. “The plastic layer coating some cardboard cartons is difficult to break down and clings to the cardboard, reducing its recyclability,” the company stated. 

Other “dirty dozen” products included padded envelopes, glittery gift wrap, and paper-based fast food soda cups.

Americans want a clear recycling logo that can make the process as simple as possible. Policymakers should ditch the confusing number system and make a simple, easy-to-see logo for products that can be recycled. 

One way that could be done is a logo similar to a stoplight. Green means it’s good to recycle while red means it belongs in the trash. A yellow symbol can go on items that are recycled in some areas, but not others, such as glass or number 5 plastic. 

The poll revealed that 78 percent of respondents believe recycling helps the environment. But that number should be 100 percent. Recycling is undoubtedly key in reducing waste, cutting emissions, and preventing pollution. But it is easy to see why some Americans are skeptical of recycling when the process can be so confusing. 

It can be difficult to get lawmakers to agree on anything. Companies should take the issue of recycling into their own hands by ensuring that their packaging has clear information on how to recycle the product. Making this change could make a big difference for the planet. And as the poll suggests, it could even boost sales to customers who want to buy products that make recycling easy.