Stop fooling consumers about recycling


You’ve probably seen it on a laundry detergent bottle label, printed on a ready-made salad bag, or stamped on the container of a thousand other products lining the shelves of grocery and retail stores: a symbol with three arrows. “Pursuing” which form a triangle. It can be green or black. It can have a number between 1 and 7 inside the triangle, which corresponds to the type of plastic resin used to build it, or have a suggestion on how to recycle.

For the consumer, this symbol conveys the message that this item is recyclable and, for the good of the planet, should be treated accordingly and not be thrown in the trash. But for environmentalists and waste reduction advocates, the symbol is, in many cases, a half-truth used by manufacturers to “green” their products.

The truth is that many, if not most, plastic products with the symbol are not recycled, regardless of whether they are placed in recycling bins. In fact, less than 10% of all single-use plastic ever made has been recycled, and that’s unlikely to change without serious intervention.

That’s the idea behind California Senate Bill 343 from State Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica). The bill would ban manufacturers from using a “chasing arrows” symbol on their products from 2024, unless they can prove that it is not only potentially recyclable, but that it is. in fact recycled significantly in California. It was passed by the legislature and is now awaiting action from Governor Gavin Newsom, along with a set of other sensible, albeit progressive, proposals to improve recycling. Other states would be wise to watch.

The symbol was created in 1988 by the plastics industry with the good intention of conveying useful information to consumers about items that can be recycled. But it got off the rails pretty quickly when packaging makers started applying the symbol to just about anything, whether it could be recycled or not. The result is that consumers are optimistically filling recycling bins with things that have no hope of being recycled, making sorting difficult and more expensive for recycling facilities.

Unsurprisingly, plastics makers have opposed the bill, as they have with all significant plastic waste reduction proposals in recent years. They argue that the change will confuse consumers, although it’s hard to imagine being truthful will lead to more confusion.

It is difficult to say whether establishing new rules for the use of the recycling symbol will change consumer behavior. How many people even look at the labels for information other than ingredients, calories, or directions? Its good.

The main objective of the bill is to change the behavior of packaging manufacturers and encourage them to use materials with a high recycling rate, such as glass, paper or PET or HDPE plastic (n ° 1 and # 2 in the chained arrows symbol), and away from those that do not have a viable recycling market or cannot be recycled as they are constructed with two or more types of material (think paperboard lined with plastic).

In the end, this is not a transformational reform comparable to another Allen bill, SB 54, which would have phased out the sale of consumer products in the state if presented in publicity. non-recyclable plastic packaging. This effort has not been passed by the legislature for three years now. But tackling the ‘chase the arrows’ symbol is a smart step in the right direction to stop misleading consumers about the deplorable state of recycling.

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