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Resin Identification Code change could shape public's view

July 3, 2013

Changes are coming — at last — to the Resin Identification Code. While the changes may seem superficial, the reality is that if they're successful, this has the potential to change the public's perception of plastics packaging.

So let's be sure to get this right.

The change will be most significant for plastics processors:

• The code itself will change, probably from the chasing-arrows symbol to an equilateral triangle. It's a subtle change, and on many containers it may be nearly imperceptible. But it's essential.

• The timing is still a few years down the road. The new proposed resin ID code, D7611, probably won't be adopted by the states until late 2014 or early 2015. In the meantime, everyone should stick the current code.

• Even then, the new code will be phased in. New tools will need to include the new code, but old ones won't have to be retrofitted.

• In addition to the new triangle, there will be other changes to the code. There may be symbols or numbers to indicate melt flow, for example. And packages that have the No. 7 symbol may also start including resin names, like PLA or PC.

For recyclers, this is good news — especially if consumers are paying attention.

The new code will provide them with additional information, so any companies that use the code to identify packages by resin type will have new tools at their disposal.

But more important, removing the "chasing arrows" will help to reinforce to consumers that just because a package has a Resin Identification Code, that doesn't mean it can be recycled in the local curbside or drop-off program.

Will that make a big difference? We'll see. We know from decades of experience that many consumers want to recycle everything, including all of their plastics.

But the real hope here is that by removing the arrows, consumers will stop using the code, and recyclers will find new ways to educate the public on what can be recycled.

The plastics industry hasn't changed the code in 20-plus years, so even a small change is going to make an impact — it will have a cost; it will take some effort.

And getting rid of the arrows means the industry, brand-owners, municipalities and recyclers are going to have to settle on a better way to educate the public about plastics recycling.