ASTM looks past chasing arrows
By Editorial Staff, Resource Recycling
An ASTM International plastics subcommittee this week released its revisions to the resin identification code, which will no longer feature the "chasing arrows" symbol, instead replaced by a simple equilateral triangle.
The resin identification code (RIC) was developed by the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) in 1988 to help materials recovery facilities (MRFs) better identify and sort the resins of plastics containers. In the years since, the RIC has been used by stakeholders across the supply chain to assist in scrap plastics recovery. But due to the increasing complexity of the types of resins used to make consumer products, as well as the consumer confusion caused by the chasing arrows symbol, the RIC system is ripe for an overhaul.
For many consumers, the chasing arrows symbol denotes recyclability, which, in some cases, is not true, depending on the resin and any given community's recycling collection program. But the RIC is integral to scrap plastics reclaimers who wish to recycle collected plastics.
The revisions to ASTM D7611, Standard Practice for Coding Plastic Manufactured Articles for Resin Identification, are meant to "further modernize the RIC system," according to a press release from the standards organization. "By replacing the chasing arrows graphic — commonly associated with recycling — with an equilateral triangle, ASTM D7611 helps bring focus back to the system's core mission: resin identification and quality control prior to recycling."
"Changing the marking symbol in D7611 decouples the RIC system from the recycling message, which has been a significant source of confusion by the public," said Bridget Anderson, director, Recycling Unit, Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling, New York City Department of Sanitation, participated in the development of the revised D7611 standard as a member of the ASTM D20.95.01 task group working on the revision. "This is an important first step to help ensure the long-term integrity and viability of the RIC system. Building on this effort, committee members can marshal their collective expertise to continue to create a more robust coding system that is relevant and useful to multiple stakeholders in the recycling system today and into the future."
Still an issue, however, is that 39 states require by law the use of the chasing arrows symbol to be displayed on any plastics in those given states.
"The ASTM subcommittee is working on a complete package to be delivered to all the state legislatures at the same time," Dave Cornell, technical director for the Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers, told Plastics Recycling Update. "They don't want to do it piecemeal."
Tom Pecorini, plastics industry veteran and Technical Contact and Chairman of the ASTM D20.95.01 task group, thinks that the state law issue shouldn't provide too much of a barrier:
"The changes we are making (both currently and those to come) have broad support across the value chain, which will improve the chances that the states will adopt D7611. Nonetheless, there is always the possibility that one or more do not adopt, or do not adopt in the same timeframe as the others. In such a situation, the changes we are making do not conflict with the state laws. For example, an equilateral triangle with the arrow tips satisfies both the ASTM standard (it contains an equilateral triangle) and the state law (it also contains arrow tips). In time, however, we expect the states will recognize the advantages of the ASTM system and the arrow tips will be removed unilaterally. In addition, the existing state laws only discuss bottles and containers, so other articles can adopt the ASTM system without conflict."