No doubt you have seen the the chasing-arrows enclosing a number on plastic packaging. This symbol is known as the Resin Identification Code. It was developed by the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) in 1988. It does not mean recyclable.
The chasing-arrows (universal recycling) symbol was created by Gary Anderson in 1970 as the winning entry in a contest to raise awareness about environmental issues. The contest was sponsored by the Container Corporation of America.
So, twenty years later, when SPI was developing resin codes to be “used solely to identify the plastic resin used in a manufactured article,” they thought, why not base it on the recycling symbol? After all, almost 8% of plastic waste generated is recovered for recycling! Clearly it’s not confusing to stamp a symbol very closely resembling the recycling symbol on every piece of a material of which 92% is not recycled. It seems to me that SPI’s choice of a symbol was a little like using a droplet of water to advertise flammability, or a hamburger to warn of poison.
Earlier this summer, SPI announced that they would be changing the symbol to a solid triangle rather than the chasing arrows to avoid confusion. For further information on resin ID codes, check out this article on The Daily Green.