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A little Green Dot

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Chris Vallance | 17:30 UK time, Saturday, 23 August 2008

You've probably seen the Green Dot on packaging, though you may not immediately recognise it as the "green" dot, it's usually black and white on labels. You can see what it looks like on packaging here.greendot_small.jpg In this picture from Wikipedia. It appears on hundreds of thousands of different products across Europe and has been running for a number of years.

But an iPM listener Mike Jackson wrote to us, concerned that the symbol might confuse shoppers, increasingly worried about the environmental credentials of their purchases. This is how he began the email:

Dear Eddie and Co.,
You're a busy shopper with a sense of environmental responsibility.
You cast your eye quickly over the literature on the sides of packaging when considering a purchase. You are drawn to clear symbols - what a useful shortcut for effective and appropriate action.

And what symbol do you frequently see somewhere on soap and detergent dispensers, toothpaste tubes, bread spread cartons and crisp packets? Why a pair of intertwining arrows, one black, one white. That's got to be good, hasn't it? This is patently a green product with a capacity for recycling.

In fact the Green Dot symbol is a trademark which simply means the company producing the product has made a contribution to the costs of a packaging reclamation and recycling scheme which runs in some European countries.

That scheme doesn't operate in the UK, and Mike worried that shoppers would think that the product was made from recycled material or was capable of being recycled - neither of which the Green Dot guarantees. In fact as Valpak, the company who regulate the use of the trademark in the UK, clearly state on their website, "The UK Green Dot® is not a recycling symbol"

So why does the Dot appear on UK packaging, when Valpak's website says it "has no meaning in the UK"? Well if a product is exported to a European country operating the Green Dot scheme the symbol may need to be on packaging, so having the symbol on the packs in the UK saves having to produce different packs for Europe.

But that leaves the possibility that consumers will be confused, and think that products are recyclable when they aren't or are made from recycled materials. In fact in a document sent to Andrew George MP (who has raised the issue in the commons) by Valpak Chief Executive, Steve Gough, the company says, "The Green Dot does not identify packages for recycling - this is a widely held misconception"

Lucy Yates,Senior Policy Advocate at The National Consumer Council, an organisation concerned about the clarity of eco-marks in general, told us they want symbol not to be removed from packaging on goods for sale in the UK

Mike was rather less demanding: he wants Valpak and package producers to better publicise the true meaning of the Green Dot.

That's a suggestion Valpak's Duncan Simpson said they would look at, Mike's concerns are certainly being taken seriously.

Time is always short on a 24 minute programme, so you can hear more of what Duncan had to say in the interview below.

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