Understanding Recycling Claims in Footwear Products & Marketing

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This post was updated on: 4/15/24

Many in the footwear industry are getting serious about lowering the industry’s collective environmental impact. The OrthoLite and Cirql teams are highly motivated and excited to be part of what will prove to be a challenging process.

In the absence of clear regulatory guidance on environmental marketing claims, companies are increasingly relying on voluntary third-party validations – like Global Recycled Standards (GRS), HIGG verifications – to communicate certain characteristics and environmental benefits of products. As we navigate the ever-changing regulatory landscape that will define the footwear business in 2024, we invite you to join us in the journey to better understand what these certifications mean and how they can be valuable tools for us, our partners, and consumers.

Voluntary third-party certifications, federal and state legislation and regulations, and voluntary industry standards provide a framework for stakeholders within the supply chain to be able to work together. That’s where true progress can be made.

Many consumers are passionate about lowering their impact and want to understand the reality of their purchasing choices. Informing consumers begins with the way that the industry talks about and describes products, especially related to sustainability claims.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) first issued the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (the so-called “Green Guides”) in 1992. Last updated in 2012, the Green Guides outline principles that apply to environmental marketing claims and set out guidance regarding specific categories of claims. The FTC is currently updating the Green Guides. This post summarizes what the current Green Guides say about recycling-related marketing. The FTC is currently updating the Green Guides and is expected to release new Green Guides in 2024 or 2025.

This post summarizes the Green Guides’ directions around recycling-related marketing.

Guidelines Around Recycling-Related Claims 

The Green Guides address many topics, here we’ll look at two common claims: “recyclable” and “recycled content.” In order for a product to be labeled with, or marketed with, one of those recycling-related claims, it must meet certain qualifications.

There’s an important caveat. With so many legitimate variables in the recycling realm, brands may add qualifiers to their recycling-related claims, and are, in fact, expected to do so in many circumstances.

(All quotes below are attributable to the FTC Green Guides, § 260.12 and § 260.13.)

Claim: Recyclable

Four general qualifications must be met in order for a product to be labeled as recyclable.

  • It must have the physical properties that enable it to be recycled at the end of its life.
  • A recycling program and/or collection site (that manages this type of product) must be readily available to the substantial majority (i.e. 60%) of consumers.
  • The entirety of the specific product (excluding minor incidental components) must be able to be recycled. If just a portion of the product is recyclable, that must be qualified in any claim.
  • The products must not have a significant limiting factor to being recycled. “An item that is made from recyclable material, but, because of its shape, size, or some other attribute, is not accepted in recycling programs, should not be marketed as recyclable.”

If those four criteria are not met, any “recyclable” claims must be qualified in order to not be considered deceptive. The FTC is especially focused on transparency around access to recycling centers and/or collection, and encourages strong language. A qualifying claim in this instance might read, “This product is recyclable only in the few communities that have appropriate recycling programs.”

Claim: Recycled Content

Claims for most products containing recycled materials must meet the following qualifications:

  • Recycled claims can only apply to the “…materials that have been recovered or diverted from the waste stream during the manufacturing process or after consumer use.”
  • Claiming a product is recycled infers that the product is made from 100% recycled content. Unless this is accurate, percentages should be indicated.
    • For example, it’s good practice to say that a product “contains 30% recycled content.”
    • By contrast, it would be considered deceptive in most cases to simply state, “contains recycled content.”
  • Recycled content should be “composed of materials that have been recovered or otherwise diverted from the waste stream, either during the manufacturing process (pre-consumer), or after consumer use (post-consumer).”
    • If the recycled content is from pre-consumer materials, the brand should be able to verify that those materials would have otherwise entered the waste stream.
    • Brands are not compelled to delineate between pre- and post-consumer materials in their claims. But if they choose to do so, they should be able to track and substantiate corresponding percentages.


These guidelines help brands and consumers to better make and understand recycling-related claims. When brands follow the Green Guides parameters for recycling-related innovations, we all can make better choices.

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We’re fueled by innovation, a deep understanding of our brand partners’ needs, true collaboration, and a dedication to limiting our impact on the planet—and it shows in every product we make. That’s how we became the global leader, and why we’re proud to partner with the best brands on earth.