As the Federal Trade Commission begins rewriting its environmental marketing Green Guides, the Plastics Industry Association is out with a survey that says consumers equally support both older mechanical recycling and newer chemical recycling technologies.
The association also noted prominently in an April 19 news release that its survey found that 62 percent of the public believes that "single-use plastics are important to their quality of life."
Still, it was public opinion about advanced recycling, as the group calls chemical recycling, that drew most of the survey's attention.
How to label plastics made from advanced recycling is likely to be a flashpoint in the debate before the FTC, with environmental groups viewing the technology very skeptically.
But the Washington-based plastics association said a national survey of 1,200 U.S. voters found that consumers "overwhelmingly support" all types of recycling technology when deciding whether materials should be labeled as being recyclable or containing recycled content.
"Consumers don't discriminate against technologies like advanced recycling which enable them to recycle more of the plastic products they use," said Matt Seaholm, president of the group. "They want labels or branding to be simple and consistent and are more focused on keeping plastics in a recycling bin and out of the landfill.
"Our goal is to build a more circular economy, and that means enabling consumers to easily find and purchase products and packaging that are designed to be recycled or made from recycled content," he said.
When FTC launched the Green Guides review in December, one of the questions it asked was how the terms "recyclable" and "recycled content" should be used in marketing.
As well, FTC Chair Lina Khan said consumers are confused about whether plastics collected in curbside programs are actually recycled.
This is FTC's first rewrite of the Green Guides since 2012, and with recycling technologies and markets changing rapidly since then, the review is expected to generate considerable interest.
The plastics association said the survey showed that more than 90 percent of consumers see both mechanical and advanced recycling as acceptable, with 89 percent agreeing that labeling something as having "recycled content" is appropriate for mechanical or advanced recycling.
It said that 91 percent of those surveyed said labeling something "recyclable" is appropriate for both technologies.
"[A] large majority of Americans support advanced recycling and agree that advanced recycling should be considered recycling," according to memo from RG Strategies, which conducted the poll Feb. 22-28. "Americans also believe that if different labeling requirements are set for different recycling methods, it could lead to confusion and ultimately cause people to recycle less often."
The advanced recycling debate at FTC mirrors political fights in statehouses. Industry groups have passed laws favorable to advanced recycling in more than 20 states in the last few years.
The survey also hit on another policy priority for industry: getting governments to recognize what's called mass balance methods to measure recycled content in plastics made with chemical recycling.
The survey said Americans have generally favorable views of mass balance, although it was not at levels of support for advanced recycling in general.
RG said 44 percent of respondents felt that having separate labels for mass balance recycled content products would be confusing, while another 44 percent said it would make no difference or they weren't sure.
The association said it would include the survey in formal comments to the FTC ahead of an April 24 filing deadline.