Lorax EPI

The problem with the chasing arrows symbol
by Aaron Sarah at 11:42 in Packaging, Circular Economy, Emerging

If you are reading this blog, you probably recognise the chasing arrows symbol from packaging that you interact with on a daily basis. However, you might not know what it means, or the history behind it. The symbol has actually become problematic for recycling, which is why we have started to see some governments legislating on the use of the symbol.


The history behind the symbol:

The chasing arrow symbol was designed by an American college student as an entry to an art competition that was sponsored by a recycled paperboard producer. Whilst initially being associated with recycling, the symbol was adopted by the plastics industry in 1988 for use in the resin identification code system. This intends to assist the recycling industry with sorting packaging into the correct waste management streams by classifying the type of plastic through a unique numerical code.

However, this means the symbol has ended up being used on any packaging, regardless of whether it is recyclable or not. This causes an issue because most consumers see the arrows and believe that this means the packaging is recyclable – and therefore attempt to recycle packaging which is not recyclable. Therefore, use of this symbol can result in some packaging contaminating the waste stream at recycling plants.

California's solution:

On 6th October 2021, the California state legislature passed the bill SB343. This law prohibits the use of the chasing arrows symbol on non-recyclable packaging and products. The law is not an outright ban of the symbol, as it can still be used on products and packaging that meets state-wide recyclability criteria which is determined by the CalRecycle organisation. However, it bans producers of non-recyclable packaging from using the symbol. To be in scope of being able to use the symbol, the product or packaging must have an established recycling rate of 75% or above in California. SB343 is a clear indication that governments have recognised the problem that the symbol is causing for their recycling streams. The prohibition of the symbol is a clear attempt to ensure that consumers are only recycling packaging and products for which the state has the infrastructure.

Canada following in their footsteps?

Canada is also in the process of trying to reduce the negative effects that the chasing arrows symbol is having on its recycling stream. The Canadian government has recently held a public consultation on ‘developing rules for recyclability and compostability labelling'. A major part of this consultation is proposing that the chasing arrows symbol is prohibited on packaging and products unless 80% of Canada's recycling facilities have clear end markets for the recycled material afterwards. Whilst there has been a slight pushback from stakeholders on the 80% figure, it is likely that the Canadian government will pass legislation prohibiting use of the chasing arrows symbol by the end of 2023.

More to follow?

Through the examples of California and Canada, we can see that governments have recognised the problem that the chasing arrows symbol can have on their recycling streams and by prohibiting the symbol with legislation they are clearly trying to improve recyclability within their state or country. It is quite possible that more governments will begin to prohibit the use of this symbol and we are already seeing numerous US states proposing bills to do so.

If you would like to keep track of global labelling requirements for your packaging, please contact us as Lorax EPI today, and speak with one of our experienced consultants.

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