Bathroom brands need to come clean on recycling, says consumer watchdog

Michael Savage
Photograph: enviromantic/Getty Images

The battle against plastic waste is being hindered by the poor information given to consumers about which product bottles can be recycled, a leading consumer group has warned.

An analysis by Which? of labels on 20 common toiletries found the majority had no recycling information, despite most being at least partially recyclable. Only six had accurate and detailed labelling, telling users the bottles could be recycled, with specific instructions on how to do so.

The analysis 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 recycling labels, despite being made of recyclable materials.

While many brands fell short of the standards that the consumer rights champion expected, Carex’s Complete Original handwash (250ml) clearly displayed information about how to recycle the bottle which also encourages customers to do so. Radox Feel Refreshed shower gel (250ml) was picked out for similar praise.

Recycling is well established in kitchen and grocery products, with Tesco announcing last week that it was removing shrink-wrapped multipacks of baked beans, soup and tuna from its supermarkets as part of a drive to reduce its use of plastic.

However, Which? expressed concern that a lack of proper labelling was leading to large numbers of recyclable products ending up in landfill – with bathroom items a prime culprit. It found that, while 67% of people think recyclable packaging is important when shopping, 65% said they were not cutting back on plastics in the bathroom. A third said it was too difficult to replace bathroom products they regularly use. One in six (16%) said they don’t know how to cut back on bathroom plastic.

Which? said the onus was now on leading brands to make significant changes to the way they approach the production of packaging and how they communicate with their customers. It also wants recycling labelling to be made mandatory.

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. 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.”

The most recent official statistics for household recycling cover 2017, when the UK recorded a 45.7% recycling and composting rate. This was only a minor increase on 2016’s 45.2%. Wales had the highest recycling rate of the UK nations, at 57.6% in 2017. The figures suggest the UK has some way to go if it is to meet the EU’s 50% target for household waste.