A recent project focused on plastic packaging communications raised a very important question: How many of us truly understand the implications of standards used in communicating a package’s recyclability? By understanding the standards discussed below, we see that plastic sorting goes beyond recyclability of the plastic resin itself.
RIC or Resin Identification Code developed by The Plastic Industry and Trade Association (SPI) primarily caters to recyclers and manufacturers to provide them with a consistent system for labeling and identifying plastic resin in a manufactured article.
The code identifies most common plastic resin such as PETE, HDPE, PVC, LDPE, PP, and PS labeled by the numbers 1-6 respectively and for resin other than the 6 or for mixed resin it is coded number 7 as below.
As per the 1988 standard developed by SPI that was subsequently adopted by 39 state legislatures (as of 2013), the number label is surrounded by chasing arrows that is often confused by consumers as a symbol to depict the article is collected for recycling.However, this is not necessarily the case with all resin types.
According to EPA’s Sustainable Material Management Report 2013, PP recovery is at 0.5% and PS at 1.3% across the country, while the widely recycled plastics such as PET and HDPE are recovered between 24% -10% (for municipal solid waste). The recovery rate for #7 or “other” resin types is much less and difficult to account for, giving a growing number of consumers a negative perception about RIC #7.
While one might think their yogurt cups (usually made of PP) or plastic kitchenware (usually made of PS)is recyclable, truth is they are not widely accepted by curbside recycling programs and end up in landfill almost 99% of the times along with the #7.
With the latest and much needed revision to the RIC standard, developed in partnership with ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials), such a misconception around the resin’s recovery for recycling will be eliminated. The new standard ASTM D7611 will replace the RIC system’s “chasing arrows” symbol – commonly associated with recycling – to a solid equilateral triangle as well as expand the system so recyclers can identify more resin types including mixed ones.
How2Recycle label, developed by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition -a project of GreenBlue, and launched in early 2013 is designed to be a more consumer facing label with the aim of clearly communicating recycling instructions to the public. The design is meant to improve ease of consumer recycling with uniform and accurate on-package claims as it compliments RIC system. The types of How2Recycle labels as seen below has been well received by consumers for its transparent on-package recycling instructions.
The labeling standards are striving to be more accurate and efficient while also including multilayer plastic resin in the near future. Most plastic articles contain at least one additional layer which while recyclable may not have an accurate RIC compelling consumers to add it to the trash pile, at the same time an accurate RIC such as #5 (PP) or #6 (PS) may encourage consumers to add them onto the recycling pile while it will end up as landfill about 99% of the times depending on the local curbside recycling program. This is where How2Recycle label helps compliment the RIC by giving consumers simplified recycling information without overwhelming them.