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Design for recycling

A product’s environmental impact is greatly influenced by its design. Designing for recyclability means that less waste will be sent to landfill or incineration. Instead, the materials can be re-used when manufacturing new products. In this way, recycling reduces the need for extracting virgin raw materials.

This also leads to a reduced impact on land use and biodiversity as well as water and air pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions. For products with a short lifespan, such as single-use packaging, it is especially important that the resources used are not wasted.

How does the Nordic Swan Ecolabel contribute?

Nordic Ecolabelling promotes design for recyclability by setting requirements both for the product and for the packaging of the products. In order to facilitate recycling, the focus is on:

  • User information on how materials are to be recycled.
  • Design for disassembly of materials.
  • Promotion of single-material products, components and packaging.
  • Exclusion of materials that are not recyclable in Nordic recycling systems, such as biodegradable plastic.
  • Limitation of dark / black plastic in packaging.
  • Labels in a different material than that of the packaging have size restrictions and must be removable.
  • Prohibition of harmful chemical substances in materials to ensure cleaner material streams.

Environmental background

Recyclability is an important step in the transition to a circular economy. It provides an opportunity for materials to stay in the resource loop and thereby reducing the need for virgin resources. The extent to which a material is recycled depends on many factors, such as the sorting techniques and how the consumers ultimately sorts their waste.

The quality of the recycled material is also important to meet demand and to have many potential areas of use. By excluding harmful chemical substances in products and packaging, a wider future use and circularity of materials will be enabled.

For example, recyclability can be promoted by using transparent plastic, which has a wider range of recycling options than black or strongly coloured plastic. Dark plastics can also be more difficult to detect during the sorting process.

Labels on plastic packaging can interfere with the recycling process in a similar way, especially if a label is made from a different material than the packaging, covers a large amount of its surface and is not easily washed away.

The quality of recycled materials can be negatively affected if the wrong types of materials end up in the recycling streams. For instance, biodegradable plastic is not possible to recycle in the Nordic waste systems. Products and packaging that consist of combined, non-separable materials may also hinder the waste sorting or contaminate the recycled material.