Which? uncovers the lack of clear recycling information on labels of popular toiletries

Consumer group Which? says poorly-labelled bathroom products is holding back recycling.

Which? analysed the recycling information on the labels of 20 common toiletries, as well as the type and volume of packaging, to determine how clearly the products are labelled and how difficult they would be to recycle.

It found that 12 out of 20 (60%) products had no recycling information on the label, despite most of them being partially or wholly recyclable.

Only six of the products (30%) that Which? looked at seemed to be getting the labelling right – advising consumers that the products should be recycled and with specific instructions on how to do so.

The consumer group says it is concerned that this “lack of coherent labelling” could cause confusion among consumers and lead to significant numbers of recyclable products being sent to landfill.

Recycling and sustainability are a high priority for many consumers – so the lack of clear information on the products we looked at is inexcusable in this day and age

Which? found that while two-thirds (67%) of people think recyclability of packaging is important when supermarket shopping, a majority (65%) of Which? members said they were not cutting back on plastics in the bathroom.

A third (33%) explained that this was because it would be too difficult to replace bathroom products they regularly use, while a quarter (23%) hadn’t thought about it before. One in six (16%) explained that they don’t know how to cut back on bathroom plastic.

Experts at Which? found that Head and Shoulders classic clean shampoo (500ml), L’Oreal Elvive Colour Protect conditioner (400ml) and Listerine Total Care mouthwash (500ml) had no clear labelling regarding recycling, despite being made of recyclable materials.

While many brands fell short of the standards Which? expected, Carex’s Complete Original handwash (250ml) displays clear labelling about how to recycle the bottle, and encourages people to do so. Radox Feel Refreshed shower gel (250ml) gives similarly clear instructions.

Recycling habits

For most people, the recycling habit has taken hold more effectively with groceries and other kitchen products. Previous Which? research found that on average 58 per cent of packaging for grocery products was clearly labelled.

Which? is concerned that many toiletry brands are not doing enough to offer consumers clear information about whether or not their bathroom products are recyclable.

The onus is now on these brands to make significant changes to the way they approach the production of plastic packaging and how they communicate with their customers.

With the packaging of many recyclable bathroom toiletries going into landfill in the UK, brands must take action to ensure bottles of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel are clearly labelled

Which? is also calling on the government to make recycling labelling simple, clear and mandatory and ensure the necessary infrastructure is in place to make it easy for everyone to recycle, regardless of where they live.

Natalie Hitchins, Which? Head of Home Products and Services, said: “Recycling and sustainability are a high priority for many consumers – so the lack of clear information on the products we looked at is inexcusable in this day and age.

“With the packaging of many recyclable bathroom toiletries going into landfill in the UK, brands must take action to ensure bottles of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel are clearly labelled and can be disposed of in an efficient way.”

Which? advice for consumers

  • Items such as shampoo, conditioner and shower gel bottles can usually be recycled by emptying, rinsing and replacing the lids.
  • When recyclable products have pump dispensers, you usually need to remove the pump and throw it away separately.
  • Some retailers offer refills for certain branded toiletries so you don’t have to buy another container.
  • A lot of plastic-free options can actually save money, such as using a soap bar and buying refills in bulk. Other plastic-free options include:
    • Reusable face wipes
    • Solid shampoo / conditioner bars
    • Bamboo toothbrushes
    • Toothpaste and mouthwash tablets
    • Menstrual cups
    • Plastic-free deodorant
    • Recyclable / plastic-free toilet paper

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