While ASTM International Inc. continues to deliberate slowly over changes to the 23-year-old resin identification code, an overwhelming majority of municipality and state recycling officials recently surveyed say the current codes are confusing to the public and hinder recycling efforts.
Specifically, 82 percent said that people think everything with the same number should be recyclable whether it is a bottle, tub or toy, and 78 percent said that people think that chasing arrows mean something is recyclable.
Another 68 percent said that there is also a lack of consistency in programs within a region as to what can and can't be recycled.
The survey, done for the Bureau of Waste Prevention Reuse and Recycling of the Department of Sanitation for the city of New York, represents recycling officials from at least 29 states.
Of the 334 surveyed, 199 represented local governments, 42 state governments, 18 material recovery facilities and 11 private recyclers. The other 64 were from a mix of consulting companies, businesses, universities and nonprofit groups, private citizens and federal and regional government representatives.
Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said the codes today are used primarily for education and they want the codes strengthened so they can be better used for that purpose. About 79 percent of the respondents said they strongly agree that the purpose of the codes going forward should be to aid the public in sorting plastics that can and cannot be recycled in their local program.
Another 53 percent said they strongly agree that the codes should used to identify plastic materials with like compositions that could be potentially recycled if a market were to develop. Another 47 percent said they strongly agree that the codes should be used to aid MRFs in processing recycled plastics.
Almost three-fifths of those surveyed, or 57 percent, said a code should be added for compostable plastics, and 40 percent said that the chasing arrows should be removed, with others suggesting that the recycling arrows only be used on items that can be recycled.
One-third recommended that a code be added for the type of molding method used to make the plastic, while others said that the code numbers themselves should be larger, and that when products made from the same resin can't be recycled, they should have a different number.
An ASTM subcommittee is scheduled to vote on a number of proposals at its next meeting in April, including whether to give linear low density polyethylene and polylactic acid resin their own numbers when the code is eventually revised, possibly later this year.
About 18 percent said they don't use the codes at all. The two top reasons given by more than 60 percent of those respondents:
* The codes cause confusion ... and complicate our outreach education about what is and is not accepted for recycling.
* They do not adequately distinguish between items accepted and not accepted for recycling.
More than three-quarters of those surveyed or 77 percent said they get phone calls and emails from people saying they don't understand the codes. Even more, 88 percent, said the general public doesn't understand why municipalities can't accept all plastics.
What types of plastics are collected varies greatly from city to state, the survey found.
Roughly 30 percent said they collect all plastic bottles and containers with resin codes of 1-7. The next highest number, 27 percent, said they collect only PET and HDPE bottles.
Twelve percent collect only plastic bottles, but of all resin types, and 14 percent said they collect only PET and HDPE bottles and containers.
Of those, the survey estimates that 92 percent accept PET and HDPE bottles for recycling; 50 percent accept HDPE bottles and containers for recycling; and 49 percent accept PET bottles and containers for recycling.