Wednesday, June 10, 2015

New Recycling Labels

Ever glanced at a product or its packaging and noticed one of the symbols seen on the right? Did you think that, because the symbol is the three chasing arrows, the material was recyclable? Unfortunately, this is not necessarily the case. These symbols are called Resin Identification Codes (RICs), and details are highlighted in the photo below. RICs were developed by The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) in 1988 and are now required for use in 39 states. According to How2Recycle, RICs aim to "assist in the identification of resin types for the recycling and plastics industries." In other words, RICs serve the plastics and recycling industries, not necessarily these industries' consumers. The American Society for Testing and Materials states that RICs are not “recycle codes,” do not imply inherent recyclability, and should not be in close proximity to environmental claims (including recyclability). Consumer testing by GreenBlue and other organizations show that the majority of the public does not understand RICs. Consumer interpretations have ranged from a plastics “grade,” popularity, number of times it was recycled, to the presumption that an RIC means something is recyclable. In addition, RICs are not universally found on bags, films, or other product packaging because of varying legislation and interpretations of the guidelines in the photo below.

We've determined that RICs aren't the most effective way to determine if a product is recyclable. How can we label our products so that they do educate consumers about recyclability? How2Recycle is working to answer this question.
The How2Recycle Label
The How2Recycle™ Label is a voluntary, standardized labeling system that clearly communicates recycling instructions to the public. How2Recycle has recently developed a new recycling label to provide consistent and transparent on-package recycling information to consumers. Currently the label only applies to packaging sold in the U.S., with a few select labels available for packaging sold in Canada. The How2Recycle Label is compatible with RICs, however  How2Recycle recommends revamping the RICs "to be more useful to the plastics community while removing the chasing arrows because of confusion surrounding their meaning." 

Widely Recycled
If you see the simple, three chasing arrows on a product, it is safe for you to assume you can recycle it in an on-campus recycling bin or your curbside bin at home. Common examples of these items are cereal boxes, plastic water or soda bottles (but not their caps!), and plastic take-out containers. Double check on a certain item here!
Limited Recycling 
Every area's recycling program is different. Click here to check if it is possible to recycle a certain item in your area. 
Not Yet Recycled
It is likely that this item is not recyclable in your area. Items that are not yet recyclable at the University of Michigan are PVC, styrofoam, and napkins. Double check on a certain item here!
Store Drop-Off
A wide variety of plastic bags, films, and wraps can go in plastic bag recycling bins at your favorite grocery store or retailer. This includes items with the How2Recycle Store Drop-Off label and bags and films using Resin Identification Codes #2 and #4. These items cannot go in to curbside bins. In fact, less than 10% of Americans can put these items in their curbside bin, making store drop-off a great recycling solution. To find out what you can recycle in these bins, and to find recycling locations, click here.

Look out for these new How2Recycle labels, because they are already being printed on packaging! The photo to the right is of a Cheez It box, and it is communicating that the paper box is recyclable, and the plastic bag in which the crackers come is recyclable, if clean and dry, at a local grocery store. You can click here to check which local grocery stores accept these clean & dry plastic bags.

Check out the U-M Waste Reduction and Recycling Office website for more information about what can be recycled on campus and how to recycle uncommon items such as batteries, inkjet cartridges, and hardcover books.

"How2Recycle - 2014 Annual Report." How2Recycle (2014): Sustainable Packaging Coalition, 2014. Web. 1 June 2015. <>.