National research conducted by The Recycling Partnership in June 2021 explored recycling behavior and attitudes, measured the level of reliance that consumers placed on the recycling information they found on product labels, and how well they understood that information. The research included surveys of more than 1,300 U.S. consumers and 15 individual in-depth interviews among a cross-section of survey respondents to better understand consumers thought processes as they encountered recycling information on product labels, and the resulting impact of that information on their recycling behavior.
This research is important because it demonstrates why accurate, on-pack labeling is critical to maintaining consumer confidence and ultimately participation in recycling.
The consumer product labels research produced the following major findings:
Consumers rely heavily on recycling information they find on product labels.
- 78% of consumers nationwide look at recycling information on a product or product label to make sure an item ends up in the right place.
- 53% of consumers look at the product label before trashing or recycling an item when they are unsure whether or not the item is recyclable.
Consumers trust the recycling information they find on product labels and feel deceived, sometimes discouraged from participating in recycling at all, if they find out the recycling information contained there is inaccurate— meaning that a product claims to be recyclable when it isn’t actually being recycled into something new.
- 82% of consumers trust that the recycling information on a product label is accurate.
- 82% of consumers say it is dishonest to put a label on a product saying it is recyclable if it won’t really be recycled.
- 71% of consumers said they would feel disappointed, deceived, upset, angry, and/or lied to if products were marked as recyclable when they could not be made into new things.
- Consumers expect the accuracy of the information on a label to be monitored or regulated.
Despite producers’ good intentions to provide accurate information, many consumers are confused by the recycling advice they currently find on product labels, leading to incorrect recycling behavior and frustration.
- Of the 78% who look at labels, nearly two-thirds or 63% report confusion about whether an item is recyclable after looking at the product label.
Consumers expect recycling information on product packaging to be reliable and want a consistent format.
Survey of 1,310 U.S. consumers conducted online and by telephone June 6-13, 2021, representative of the population of Americans who recycle at home, or who have access to recycling services even if they do not recycle actively. This baseline survey explored recycling behavior and attitudes, measured the level of reliance that consumers placed on the recycling information they currently found on product labels, and how well they understood that information. The survey was followed in late June 2021 by 15 individual in-depth interviews conducted virtually among a cross-section of survey respondents to better understand consumers’ thought process as they encountered recycling information on product labels, and the resulting impact of that information on their recycling behavior. Each interview lasted about 45 minutes, and participants were compensated for their time. These studies were designed and conducted with the support of a third-party social science-based research organization, OpinionWorks LLC.