Say goodbye to the chasing arrows recycling symbol on packaging

Jun 26, 2013 by

Surprisingly to most consumers, the recycling symbol on a product – the one with a little number inside of the chasing arrows –  doesn’t mean that the product can be recycled.

It’s incredibly frustrating (and confusing), but all the symbol does is indicate what kind of plastic (i.e. PET, PP, PS, HPDE, LDPE, PVC, etc.) the product is made from.  And not all plastic products are required by law to have the symbol.  Only containers that hold more than 8 ounces and only in certain states.

That symbol, formally known as the Resin Identification Code has been under fire from packaging companies and recyclers for years.  A couple of years ago, ASTM engaged in a multi-year project to revise resin symbology.

Progress has finally been made and I’m going to share with you the direction it looks like the ASTM is heading as well as my opinion on the resolution.
The proposed symbols will do away with the chasing arrows and replace them with a solid line triangle.  The same numbering system will apply to denote the resin type.

While I am in agreement with the ASTM’s decision to eliminate the chasing arrows, and I’m hopeful that they will eliminate some consumer confusion, I think it will take many years for consumers to start realizing that the new solid triangle doesn’t translate to recyclable.

Chasing arrows compared to a solid triangle don’t look all that different in the eyes of a fast-moving consumer.  I don’t have a better solution to propose, but I think this will highlight the need for further education about what is and what isn’t recyclable which is largely dictated locally by regional waste haulers.

Unfortunately, the ASTM and the industry missed a huge opportunity to clear up the confusion for labeling compostable plastics.

Today, compostable plastics fall under #7 (“Other”) resin code.  That provides no indication of if the material is PLA or PHA or Polycarbonate or some other type of material that doesn’t fall under #1-6.
Knowing if a product is compostable or not depends entirely on the manufacturer to truthfully label the product (separately from the resin symbol) as compostable.  That label could be in the form of the word “Compostable” embossed or printed on the product, printing the Biodegradable Products Institute symbol, printing a brown or green stripe, or some other method that manufacturer is clever.

The major challenge in the compostable products industry is that there isn’t a uniform label that companies use.

That’s where the ASTM could have solved this challenge by creating a new resin number (i.e. #8) and used it for compostable plastics.  Granted, any company could emboss the symbol on their product and deceive consumers which are a concern, but companies already do that with various compostable labeling already in play.

Unfortunately, now compostable plastics will continue to be labeled as #7 and a ubiquitous compostable labeling scheme will be nonexistent.  A complete missed the opportunity to eliminate confusion.  Bummer.

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