Since 1970, the chasing arrows symbol has been an iconic marker of recyclability. But now, President Joe Biden s administration is considering if the symbol has become misleading.
The symbol was first designed by Gary Anderson, who was studying at the University of Southern California and submitted the logo for the International Design Conference in 1970. It was designed to address Earth Day and the growing awareness of sustainability and caring for the environment.
The logo features three arrows chasing one another in a triangular loop. The first arrow is meant to represent items being collected for recycling, the second arrow represents the manufacturing of recyclable materials into new materials, and the third loop represents the consumption of the materials once again.
But today, the symbol is used on many materials that are not easily or commonly recycled.
As the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) considers updating its Green Guide for the first time in over a decade to address greenwashing, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has submitted a letter to comment on greenwashing and current recycling systems within the country. It noted that part of the necessary improvements to recycling includes clearer labels that are more transparent and accurate to consumers.
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Plastics are a significant problem that needs to be addressed. Categorizing plastics by resin identification code coupled with chasing arrow symbols does not accurately represent recyclability as many plastics (especially 3-7) do not have end markets and are not financially viable to recycle, the EPA said in its letter to the FTC.
The EPA has noted that the arrow symbols, combined with the resin numbers on plastics, have been a major source of confusion for consumers, with many people reaching out for clarification on what can and cannot be recycled, as reported by The Guardian.
In the U.S., only23.6%of all generated municipal solid waste is recycled, according to the EPA. While plastic recycling was around 8.7% in 2018, a 2022 report from Beyond Plastics found that post-consumer plastic recycling rates were actually only around 5% to 6%.
The plastics industry must stop lying to the public about plastic recycling. It does not work, it never will work, and no amount of false advertising will change that. Instead, we need consumer brand companies and governments to adopt policies that reduce the production, usage, and disposal of plastics, Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics and former U.S. EPA regional administrator, said in a statement about the 2022 report.
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In recent years, states have already targeted the label of the chasing arrow, with California being the first to restrict the logo on items that are not routinely recycled.
In addition to calling for changes to the recycling symbol, the EPA also recommended that the FTC restrict the use of several terms, including biodegradable and degradable, on products that are typically sent to landfills, recycling facilities, or incinerators.
In the letter, the EPA wrote that products labeled with terms such as degradable, biodegradable, etc., should always provide clear instructions for consumers on how to dispose of the product in a way that it will decompose in a safe and timely manner.