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Environmentalists Ask Plastic Industry To ‘Dump the Arrows’

September 16, 1992

BOSTON (AP) _ Chanting ″take off the arrows,″ environmentalists dumped dozens of non- recyclable plastic containers at an industry exhibit in a national recycling convention Wednesday.

Advocates staged the protest to pressure manufacturers to stop stamping products with the familiar recycling code - a numeral surrounded by three arrows that form a triangle.

The coalition of activists said the arrow symbol misleads consumers into believing that all types of plastics can be recycled when most can’t.

″There are hundreds of kinds of plastics and only two can be recycled in most areas of the United States,″ said Sandra Jerbek of Sacramento, Calif., executive director of Californians Against Waste.

But an industry spokesman said 85 percent of bottles manufactured now fall into the two recyclable categories - and that the symbol was never intended for public use.

″It was only intended to help recyclers in sorting the materials,″ said Bailey Condrey Jr. of the Partnership for Plastics Progress, a Washington- based group of 27 plastics manufacturers and users. ″It was not developed for consumers.″

The confrontation came during the National Recycling Congress and Exposition here. The 11th annual convention, which began Monday and ends Thursday, attracted about 1,800 recyclers, environmentalists, state and local officials and industry representatives.

About 100 protesters converged on an exhibit by the Society of the Plastics Industry, the national trade organization that created the symbol in 1988.

Demonstrators waved yogurt containers, ketchup bottles and other items that, while stamped with the three-arrow symbol, usually can’t be recycled.

While manufacturers stamp containers with arrow symbols numbered from 1 to 7 to identify the type of plastic, environmentalists say most recycling programs take only soda bottles stamped with the number 1, and beverage and detergent jugs marked with the number 2.

Seeing the arrow symbol, consumers often turn in non-recyclable plastics stamped with higher numbers, they said.

″We get calls all the time from citizens who don’t understand that just because something has the chasing-arrow code, that doesn’t mean it’s recyclable,″ said Jan Glick of Seattle, director of Washington Citizens for Recycling.

If programs accept those items, environmentalists said, they waste money and landfill space getting rid of them; if they refuse them, citizens may get discouraged and quit trying to recycle.

Advocates emphasized that they don’t object to the recycling code, just to the arrows.

Environmental Action Foundation in Washington, D.C., meanwhile, is coordinating a nationwide campaign urging consumers to mail non-recyclable plastics carrying the symbol to headquarters of the Society of the Plastics Industry.

Condrey said Wednesday he didn’t know if the industry would change its symbol. ″It’s something that’s in evolution,″ he said.

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