Campaign aims to educate consumers on plastics recycling

Mike Verespej

Published: August 1, 2012 6:00 am ET

Related to this story

Topics Packaging, Sustainability, Public Policy, Materials, Recycling, Suppliers

WASHINGTON (Aug. 1, 1:30 p.m. ET) — Plastics recyclers are boldly moving forward with a new Education Without Numbers campaign because they are convinced that the resin identification code only adds an unnecessary layer of confusion and prevents more plastics from being recycled.

The new recycling campaign identifies plastics by six types of categories that the industry believes are easily identifiable to consumers.

 “It’s essential that we move plastic recycling beyond the numbers because, in my opinion, the RIC [resin identification code] is holding back recycling,” said Patty Moore, president of Moore Recycling Associates Inc., who helped develop the new program for the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers with funding support from the American Chemistry Council.

“The numbers create a lot of confusion for the public about what can and cannot be recycled and are creating a layer of confusion that is unnecessary,” Moore said during a July 31 webinar to unveil the new campaign and graphics, which were simultaneously posted on the APR website.

“There are better options and that is why we need to move forward,” Moore said. “There is no reason for consumers to look for the code.”

The resin identification code — a number located inside a chasing arrow triangle — was never intended as a guide for consumers, she said, but as something to help recyclers sort plastics when only bottles were being recycled.

In the material for the new educational campaign that the Washington-based APR initially posted on its website, the introduction said that the RIC numbers aren't a smart outreach tool to use with consumers. 

"Those tiny little numbers on the bottom of a bottle? They’re not smart outreach tools,” APR said in the initial language that introduced the Education Without Number campaign. “Those resin identification codes may indicate a plastic bottle’s past, but they don’t predict its future.” But APR later pulled down the information from the website and reposted it Aug. 6 without those three sentences.

Instead of focusing on the RIC — which have been in use for 25 years and is currently in the process of being revised by the standards group ASTM — the new campaign identifies plastic products by six categories with specific graphics for each:

• All plastic bottles.

• Plastic bottles and containers (such as tubs with lids) — but no thermoformed packaging.

• All plastic bottles and containers.

• Clean rigid plastics — no bags, no foam.

•  All clean plastics with bags and film wraps bundled.

• All clean plastics, no bags and film wrap.

“The ability to collect a broader range of materials is growing, and there are now easily described groups of plastics that can now be collected and recycled,” Moore said.

“This gives us the ability to educate people about plastics recycling without using the code and the opportunity to remove that layer of confusion from the public and explain [plastic recycling] in language they understand.”

Each of the six categories has its own graphic, a short list of facts designed for use by recycling coordinators on brochures or fliers, and a more detailed set of facts designed for use on websites or that can be given to people moving into a community to explain the plastic recycling program in detail.

Additionally, instead of listing all the items in a specific category, the graphics and quick facts note what is excluded from a specific category.

“It is more effective to highlight what’s excluded,” Moore said — for example, no film or bags.

APR said the graphics are designed to be easy to read, and to be used as signage at the point of recycling. The quick facts provide specific examples of what does and what does not go into the recycling bin, and the more detailed information is designed for use on websites or as an informational guide.

For example, the quick facts for the “all clean plastic bottles” category explain that a bottle is any plastic container with an opening smaller than its base. And it lists soda, juice, milk, detergent, and shampoo bottles as examples. Other messages include: Please empty. Keep plastic caps and lids on containers. And food, bags, film, cups, tubs, straws, or other types of plastic should not be part of this category.

A second example: The “clean rigid plastics” category includes bottles, jugs, cups, tubs, boxes, flower pots, clamshells, crates, toys, buckets and lawn furniture. It tells communities to tell consumers to keep plastic caps and lids on containers, and not to include plastic bags, wraps, film, food, dirt, metal, straws, paper, utensils, degradable or compostable plastics.

All the graphics and material for the Education Without Numbers program can be downloaded at

The initiative is part of the continuing work by APR to increase the collection and recycling of plastic products.

“The objective is to keep the material in the United States and to sustain the growth of recycling economically,” said Steve Alexander, executive director of APR, whose members recycle more than 90 percent of all the post-consumer plastic in North America.

With the introduction of this new education campaign, Moore believes communities should stop using the resin identification codes in the information and education programs they develop for plastic recycling.

“The RIC should not be used in outreach or education programs for recycling,” for a number of reason, Moore said.

Among them: Consumers think the chasing arrows on the bottom of a plastic products means a product can be recycled and that’s not always the case, she said. And, other times, consumers will choose not to recycle a product because they can’t find, or can’t read, the number.

“All of that is unfortunate,” she said. “And then folks ask coordinators, ‘Why can’t I recycle this?’ And it becomes problematic” and an obstacle to increasing the amount of plastics that are recycled.

“The RIC does not imply recyclability. It just identifies the resin,” she said.


Campaign aims to educate consumers on plastics recycling

Mike Verespej

Published: August 1, 2012 6:00 am ET

Post Your Comments

Back to story

More stories


Performance Plastics unit helps lead to increase in sales for Dow Chemical

April 24, 2014 9:57 am ET

Dow reported turnover of $14.5 billion April 23, including an adjusted 6 percent increase in sales at its performance plastics operation, which it...    More


China's Shide Group, BASF unveil 'revolutionary' all-plastic window profile

April 23, 2014 9:10 pm ET

SHANGHAI — The PVC window profile market in Asia is expected to increase four-fold by 2025, and Chinese building products maker Dalian Shide...    More

Worker dies in fall at Formosa Texas plant

April 23, 2014 4:04 pm ET

A subcontractor died April 22 after falling 25 feet during routine cleaning operations at a Formosa Plastics Corp. USA facility in Point Comfort,...    More


Milliken expanding SC plant for additional PP clarifying agent capacity

April 23, 2014 3:42 pm ET

American chemical company Milliken & Co. has announced plans for a major expansion in capacity for its Millad NX8000 clarifying agent for...    More


CPM Extrusion, ECON launch new line of underwater pelletizers

April 23, 2014 11:25 am ET

CPM Extrusion Group and ECON GmbH unveiled their brand new EUPC line of underwater pelletizers today at ChinaPlas held in Shanghai, China.    More

Market Reports

Market Data Book - Rankings & Lists

A one-stop download of Plastic News' exclusive annual lists and processor rankings containing essential data including sales, employees, end markets, materials and more.
EXCLUSIVE EXCEL FEATURE: full mailing address details for available plant locations.

Learn more

Thermoformed Packaging 2014 Market Review & Outlook North America

This in-depth report provides analysis and discussions of economic and political conditions, market trends, legislative/regulatory activity impacting supply and demand, business opportunities and threats, materials pricing, manufacturing technology, as well as strategies being implemented by thermoformed packaging companies. In addition, there are reviews of 25 leading thermoformers in the packaging segment, assessing their growth initiatives and performance metrics over 10 years.

Learn more

Mold Making and Tooling Review and Outlook 2014 North America

This report provides in-depth analysis of the mold and toolmaking market for North America, including discussions of trends, opportunities, threats, the latest developments in production and labor and equipment trends impacting moldmakers.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

May 6, 2014 - May 8, 2014Plastics in Medical Devices 2014

May 12, 2014 - May 12, 2014Plastics News Brazil Pharma Summit

September 10, 2014 - September 12, 2014Plastics Caps & Closures 2014

February 3, 2015 - February 7, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

More Events