Key Messages And Case Studies To Provide Credible Sustainability Information On Plastic Packaging

21 January 2021

Consumers International, the UN Environment Programme and the One Planet Network have released three key messages and five case studies on the provision of sustainability information on plastic packaging.

Consumers are increasingly aware of the impact of plastic on the environment and want to reduce their consumption of plastics. However, the information provided to them to make more sustainable choices is not always clear, actionable or credible, leading to confusion and mistrust.

Three key messages and five case studies have been developed for relevant stakeholders to improve communications about materials, production, recyclability and disposal of plastic packaging. On-package labels and claims, and the standards that guide them, are a critical element of consumer communications, especially for reducing leakage and contamination.

Key messages

The three key messages provide practical action points that businesses, governments and standard-setting bodies and labelling organisations can take to improve the landscape of consumer information on plastic packaging and reduce confusion.

Key Messages to Businesses 

  • Use the ‘chasing arrows’ design for recyclability claims only, to minimise the potential for misinterpretation and confusion.
  • Ensure that e-commerce platforms are transparent and provide comprehensive information about packaging – e.g., the composition and recyclability of packaging.
  • Increase awareness around what certain labels/claims stand for, including as part of marketing efforts.


Key Messages to Governments

  • Regulate to ensure that consumer information available in the market is aligned with the principles of the Guidelines for Providing Product Sustainability Information.
  • Set definitions for common on-package sustainability claims to reduce greenwashing.
  • Promote campaigns that inform consumers on the content of labels and claims, and the actions they should take.


Key Messages to Standard-setting bodies and labelling organisations

  • Create labels which offer clear and contextualised guidance through collaboration with government and managers of waste infrastructure.
  • Set international standards which ensure composting and biodegradation work “in practice and at scale” (Ellen MacArthur Foundation).
  • Embrace scannable digital technology, for example, bar codes and QR codes to provide further sustainability information to consumers.

Case studies

The five case studies highlight labels on plastic packaging from across the globe which support consumers in their purchase, use and disposal of plastic packaging.

  1. Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) Provides relevant disposal information for each material, as most packaging has more than one element of composition with different implications for its recyclability.
  2. Pant ABC, Denmark Financial incentives in the form of deposits are used to encourage consumers to return beverage containers for reuse or recycling.
  3. The Logo for Products with Reduced Packaging (LPRP), Singapore Supports businesses in reviewing their packaging designs and provides consumers with products with reduced packaging.
  4. On-Pack Recycling Label facilitated by Worldwide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF South Africa) Provides clear instructions to help consumers understand if the product packaging can be recycled based on the availability of recycling infrastructure in the local area.
  5. UL Recycled Content Validation Mark, Global Informs consumers on the amount of recycled content in the product.

Can I Recycle This?

The papers build on the existing mapping and assessment report: "Can I Recycle This?" which provides five recommendations for clearer and more effective communications on plastic packaging:

  1. Businesses should follow the Guidelines for Providing Product Sustainability Information in their plastic packaging communications.
  2. Global consistency is needed when it comes to definitions relating to the content and reusability of packaging or disposable items.
  3. Standards, labels, and claims need to better reflect actual conditions.
  4. The use of the ‘chasing arrows’ symbol should be restricted to indicating recyclability.
  5. Informative and verified recycling labels should be adopted and their proper use enforced.

Tackling Plastic Pollution for #WorldConsumersRightsDay

Consumer communications alone cannot solve the global plastic pollution crisis, they are just one of a variety of tools to progress towards a circular economy for plastics.

World Consumer Rights Day, co-ordinated by Consumers International, takes place every year to emphasise the importance of consumer protection and empowerment. In 2021 we will highlight the role of consumers and consumer advocacy in tackling plastic pollution and demonstrate that consumers everywhere are acting to protect people and planet.

Our members will be utilising the Circle Model of Waste Management: Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repair and Replace (7Rs) in their campaigns to minimise consumption and waste whilst maximising utilisation and value of plastic.

What next?

All outputs of the Consumer Information Programme’s plastics work will contribute to the One Planet network-wide Plastics Initiative and be presented at the United Nations Environment Assembly in 2021.

See below for ways that you can support the promotion of these papers and contribute to World Consumer Rights Day:

  • Share the findings of the papers with your networks 
  • Support World Consumer Rights Day by joining the wider conversation on social media using the hashtags #SustainableConsumer and #NoPlasticPollution.
  • Follow us on Twitter and Facebook
  • Read more about our work on Sustainable Consumption
  • Sign up to our eNewsletter for regular updates on how consumer advocacy taking action