Biodegradable. Compostable. Recyclable. How helpful are product label claims?

A contaminated recycling stream.
Products and packaging labeled as “biodegradable” or “compostable” can confuse consumers and contaminate recycling streams. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

Creating plastics, particularly packaging, is a complex endeavor. For example, multiple materials may be required to create packaging for a product, based on how far that product has to travel, how long its shelf life might be, and whether it’s packaging for a food item. So, if you are a consumer who is concerned about selecting environmentally-friendly packaging and products, what do you do? Are the claims made on product packaging clear enough to help you make the best decision when it comes time to dispose of that packaging or product? Jason Locklin, director of the UGA New Materials Institute, and Jenna Jambeck, who leads the Institute’s Center for Circular Materials Management, talked to the New York Times about the complicated choices facing today’s consumers.