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  • Writer's pictureJim C.

Don’t Be Fooled by the Arrows: The Truth About Recycling Symbols



Blue recycling container with the chasing arrows symbol on the front
That symbol doesn't mean what most people think it does...

We’ve all seen it – the familiar “chasing arrows” symbol circling a number on countless plastic containers. This symbol has become synonymous with recycling, a shining example of environmental responsibility. But did you know this symbol doesn’t mean what you think it does?

The truth is, the chasing arrows symbol, while intended to be informative, can be misleading. Here’s why:


·       It indicates the type of plastic the container is made from, not whether it’s recyclable or not. That number surrounded by the arrows? It’s a Resin Identification Code (RIC), which simply tells you the type of plastic used. Recyclability depends on various factors, including local facilities and market demand.

·       Many plastics with the symbol aren’t actually recycled. Numbers 1 and 2 (PET and HDPE) are generally accepted, but things get murky with codes 3–7. These plastics might be technically recyclable, but they often end up in landfills due to economic or technical limitations.

·       The symbol creates confusion. Seeing the arrows, we naturally assume the container can be recycled. This can lead to contamination of recycling streams with unaccepted materials, causing disruptions and higher costs.


So, what can you do as a responsible recycler?


·       Check local guidelines. Every region has its own rules about what plastics are accepted. Look for recycling information on your municipality’s website or directly on the packaging.

·       When in doubt, throw it out. Err on the side of caution. This can be a tough decision for responsible recyclers, but contamination in recycling bins can ruin entire batches. If you’re not sure, it’s better to send it to landfill than risk jeopardizing the entire recycling process.

·       Push for clearer labeling. Advocate for packaging that clearly states whether the plastic is recyclable in your area. The only way to effect permanent change is to make your voice heard and to push for more effective recycling laws and regulations.

The chasing arrows symbol may be familiar, but it’s important to be an informed recycler. By understanding its limitations and following local guidelines, we can all contribute to a cleaner, more sustainable future.

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