We have received substantial interest in the Packaging Recovery Label System after our announcement of the initial pilot participants this month! We also received some comments focused on the Resin Identification Codes (RICs) for plastic packaging (and durable goods), so I’d like to provide some clarification and additional information about why we are proposing an alternative approach.
When we refer to “replacing” the RICs, we are specifically talking about their use for consumer communication. For example, many municipal governments base recycling instructions around the RICs (e.g., “we accept #1 and #2 plastics”). Complicating matters further, the use of RICs is dictated by varying laws in 39 states. Yet the RICs were never intended to be used as consumer communication; in fact, the instruction for use from original RICs developer SPI has always been to “not make recycling claims in close proximity to the code, even if such claims are properly qualified.” To address this problem as well as other important facets of the RICs, standards-setting ASTM International is now managing the revision process of the related standard, D7611.
As part of the revision process, GreenBlue has advocated to phase out the use of the recycling “chasing arrows” with the RICs, as multiple studies show the RICs to be confusing, with consumers thinking they mean anything from recycled content to degree of popularity of the resin. Further, the chasing arrows symbol communicates to consumers that all types of plastic are accepted for recycling, even packaging types that are not accepted by a substantial majority of recycling programs. An example of a point of confusion: PET (#1) bottles are accepted in the majority of communities, yet PET (#1) thermoformed containers, like clamshells, are not.
Regardless of the outcome of the revision process, RICs will continue to appear on packages (mainly for industrial resin identification) but should not be used as a recycling instruction tool for consumers. We encourage anyone interested to join ASTM and participate in this important endeavor to clarify and strengthen the standard.
We believe that by encouraging consumers to “Check Locally” on packaging types such as plastic clamshells and gable-top cartons, which have limited recycling but don’t yet meet the substantial majority requirement, we will help drive both education and market development for plastics and other materials not currently in the “widely recycled” category. The Packaging Recovery Label System is best suited to tell consumers how to recycle a package and encourage locally-based recycling education, while the RICs can continue to be used separately as an industry tool.