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Can Resin Codes be Located on the Bottom of Plastic Containers that can be Recycled?

July 25, 2008
Question 

I have looked at the general guidelines for use of resin codes on plastic containers that can be recycled, both from the FTC and the SPI (Society of the Plastics Industry), and while they are fairly clear as "guidelines" in stating that the resin code in the 3-arrow recycling symbol should be placed on the bottom of the plastic container, are there any legal reasons that that same code and symbol cannot be placed on the face of the container instead?

Answer 

The resin identification code was developed as a voluntary coding system by The Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc. (SPI) in 1988, it is required on certain plastic containers in 39 states in the U.S.

While the resin identification code provides a way for recyclers and the public to identify resin content of bottles and containers commonly found in the residential waste stream thereby facilitating the sorting of bottles and containers, SPI's Board of Directors issued a statement on March 16, 2007 emphasizing that the resin identification code "is not, and never was intended, to be an indicator of recyclability." As far back as 2001, SPI issued guidelines on the use of resin identification code. These included using the SPI code solely to identify resin content, and placing the code where it will be inconspicuous to consumers at the point of purchase so that it does not influence their buying decision. The guidelines also specified that the term "recyclable" or other environmental claims should not be used in proximity to the code.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has guidelines on the use of recycling symbols and environmental marketing claims for products, including containers. The FTC does not consider the resin identification code to be a claim of recyclability as long as it is placed on the bottom of the container or in another "inconspicuous" location. If the resin identification code is placed in a more conspicuous place where it may be interpreted as an implied claim, FTC may look for the manufacturer to justify the claim being made in light of FTC's Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (Title 16 Code of Federal Regulations Part 260.7) found here.