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Glass Works: Cleaning Up the “Greenwashing”

With new FTC guidance and attempts to provide more clarity to consumers about package recycling, glass container manufacturers hope that more consumers who are choosing glass containers will also choose to recycle them.

March 1, 2013
KEYWORDS packaging / recycling
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In late 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released revisions to the “Green Guides,” the first since 1998. These recommended guidelines are designedGreenwashing Glass Works column to help ensure that marketing claims about the environmental attributes of products and packaging are truthful and non-deceptive.

This latest set of revisions, developed after input from thousands of stakeholders, is largely in response to the “green” marketing declarations that have ballooned in the past several years as consumers have become more attentive to the impact products and packaging have on the environment.

Recycled Content Claims

Most of the FTC changes focus on cautions regarding making broad, unqualified claims about “eco-friendliness,” the basis for most of the greenwashing. But some revisions also provide new guidance concerning recyclability, degradability and recycled content. 

Unlike other types of packaging, recycled glass can be substituted for up to 70% or more of raw materials. Glass container manufacturers continue to work toward the goal of achieving 50% recycled content in the manufacture of all new glass bottles. When the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI) submitted its comments, therefore, we requested that the FTC continue to provide a clear threshold for making recycled content claims.

While the new guidance doesn’t specifically tie the amount of recycled content to marketing claims, it does recommend that marketers make recycled content claims only for materials that have been recovered during the manufacturing process or after consumer use, and that the claim is qualified on the package with the percent that is “made from recycled material.”

“Recyclable” Claims

When it comes to claims that a package is “recyclable,” the GPI recommended that any new guidance clarify the difference between packages that are truly recyclable and those that claim to be recyclable but cannot be remade into their original forms. This type of packaging is actually downcycled and eventually ends up in a landfill.

Glass packaging, on the other hand, can be recycled endlessly back into new glass containers. The latest revisions, however, only address recyclable claims based on “access.” That is, marketers should qualify recyclable claims for a package when recycling facilities are not available to at least 60% of the consumers or communities where a product is sold.

Fortunately, glass bottles can generally be recycled with ease across the U.S. in local curbside recycling and drop-off programs, as well as in deposit programs in 10 states. Over 80 recycled glass processors are located in 35 states to help process recycled glass containers and make them available for purchase by manufacturers for production in new glass bottles and jars.

More Help for Consumers

To help both marketers and consumers navigate new guidance on claims regarding recyclability, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition created How2Recycle (www.how2recycle.info), a system of harmonized labeling on packages that shows consumers whether a package can be widely recycled or has only limited options for recycling, as well as how to recycle it. Several large consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands have begun to use the labels. 

How2Recycle has also created a reference guide showing the recyclability of various packaging. Consistent with FTC recommendations, glass bottles and jars are considered “widely recyclable” because at least 60% of the U.S. population can recycle glass containers at either curbside or drop-off locations.

With new FTC guidance and attempts to provide more clarity to consumers about package recycling, glass container manufacturers hope that more consumers who are choosing glass containers will also choose to recycle them.


Any views or opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not represent those of Ceramic Industry, its staff, Editorial Advisory Board or BNP Media.

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