Woolworths’ Innovative New Labels Make Recycling Easier for Customers

In an industry first, Woolworths has initiated and introduced a new on-pack recycling label (OPRL), intended to assist recycling efforts by making it easier for customers to recycle correctly, while stimulating the growth of the recycling sector.

Woolworths Recycling LabelsWoolworths was motivated to develop the new recycling labels after feedback from customers revealed that the industry symbols currently used on packaging are confusing. To date, recycling labels across the sector have been designed to assist waste collectors and waste separators, and not customers.

The lack of consumer-friendly recycling labels, insufficient information for customers and high levels of contamination result in lower rates of recycling with too much recyclable material still making its way to landfill sites. According to the Department of Environmental Affairs’ (DEA) National Waste Information Baseline Report released in 2012, about 108 million tonnes of waste is generated in South Africa. Of that, only about 10% was recycled and the remaining 90% disposed at landfill.

WastePlan, a South African recycling company, reports that of the 150 000 households that participate in their recycling programme, more than 10% of recyclable material become non-recyclable due to contamination. 

Woolworths believes that South Africa’s recycling and resource recovery rates can be significantly improved by reducing customer confusion and replacing the current symbols with standardised icons on its products.

The new OPRL provides customers with simple icons and messaging showing each component of the packaging; the type of material it is made from (including what sustainable materials have been used in the packaging); and the likelihood of each element of the packaging being widely recycled in South Africa, or not.  

The new OPRL labels appear on the back of packaging. The material source or type of material used in the packaging icons plus the disposal instructions are explained below:

Source or type icons 

These indicate what sustainable materials are used in each part of the packaging. This section may be omitted if not applicable to the specific packaging. 

  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logoThe Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo means the piece of packaging (the sleeve, box, carton, tray, bag, etc.) is made with paper or board from well-managed forests and other responsible sources. It is independently certified by FSC Accredited Certification Bodies. The FSCTM tracks material throughout the production process: from the forest to the consumer, including all stages from processing, transformation, manufacturing to distribution.
  • How much material used is recycled from post-consumer wasteThis icon indicates how much of the material used in the packaging component is recycled from post-consumer waste (packaging that consumers have disposed of to be recycled). It could be recycled paper, plastic or glass.



Disposal icons 

These indicate which elements of the packaging are widely recycled in South Africa or whether it’s not currently being recycled. Where relevant, it also includes instructions to ensure successful recycling (e.g. empty and replace cap, recycle if clean and dry, rinse before recycling, rinse and insert lid, etc.).

  • Recycle 3.jpgThis recycle icon is used when a product’s packaging component is widely recycled in South Africa; it is made of material that local recycling programmes collect and take to facilities where it can be recycled. In some areas its collection might be limited, but consumers would need to check locally.


  • Cross through film plastic logoThe cross through this icon tells customers that the facilities for recycling this material are not widely available in South Africa at the moment. It is also an indication that this packaging component should not be disposed with recyclables to avoid contamination of recyclable material.


“Using the same icons on packaging designs across the retail and waste management sector will improve the rate of recycling by making it easier for customers to participate. Our aim is for the design of the Woolworths on-pack recycling label to become the adopted standard for all packaging in South Africa,” says Kiril Dimitrov, Woolworths Foods Packaging Manager.

The Woolworths on-pack recycling label was launched in November 2013 and can already be seen in-store on a select number of product lines. Woolworths aims to have at least 20% of its products displaying the new label by March 2014. Introduction of the new on-pack recycling label will be phased in as designs change or new product lines are introduced.

The design of the Woolworths on-pack recycling label is currently supported by a number of industry associations, including PACSA, PRASA, Plastics SA, SAPRO, Collect-a-can, The Glass Recycling Company, PETCO, POLYCO, Wasteman and WastePlan. 

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