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What Do the Arrows on Plastic Products Actually Mean?


Plastic products are ubiquitous in our daily lives. From food packaging to medical storage containers, plastic is used in countless ways. 


However, over the years plastic waste has become a significant environmental problem, and it’s essential to know how to recycle it properly. One way to identify the recyclability of plastics is by looking at the chasing arrow symbols printed on them. 

In this post, we’ll explore the meaning of these symbols and the importance of understanding the recycling symbols in plastic waste management.

Understanding the Chasing Arrow Symbol

You’re at the grocery store, trying to make environmentally conscious choices. You pick up a plastic container and notice the three chasing arrows on the bottom. You breathe a sigh of relief, thinking that it is recyclable and won’t end up in a landfill. 

Later, at home, you toss the empty container into your recycle bin, feeling good about your decision to reduce waste. But what happens to that container next? 

We are sorry to say that most of the time this symbol is just an illusion in terms of recycling. So what do those arrows actually mean?

The chasing arrows symbol on plastic products is part of the plastic Resin Identification Code system (RIC). This system was developed by the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) in 1988 to help consumers identify the type of plastic resin used to make a product

The RIC system consists of seven plastic recycling codes, each representing a different type of plastic resin. These recycling codes are as follows:

1- PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

PET is a clear, lightweight, and strong plastic that is commonly used for water bottles, soda bottles, and food packaging. It’s a versatile plastic that is easy to shape into various forms, which makes it a popular choice for single-use plastic packaging. They are considered recyclable materials in contrast to other types of plastics.

2- HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)

HDPE is a durable and versatile plastic that is commonly used for milk jugs, cosmetics, and plastic bags. It’s a popular choice for packaging because it’s lightweight, strong, and can withstand a wide range of temperatures. 

3- PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

PVC is a rigid and durable plastic that is commonly used for pipes, window frames, and vinyl siding. It’s a popular choice for building materials because it’s strong, lightweight, and has good insulation properties.

4- LDPE (Low-density polyethylene)

LDPE is a flexible and lightweight plastic that is commonly used for trash bags, pill bottles, and six-pack rings. It’s a prevalent choice for packaging because it’s strong, lightweight, and can be easily moulded into various shapes. 

5- PP (Polypropylene)

PP is a strong and flexible plastic that is commonly used for yoghurt containers, medicine bottles, and straws. It’s commonly used for packaging because it’s lightweight, durable, and can withstand high temperatures. 

6- PS (Polystyrene)

PS is a lightweight and rigid plastic that is commonly used for egg cartons, disposable plates, and packing peanuts. It’s a popular choice for packaging because it’s lightweight and has good insulation properties. 

7- Other

This category includes any other type of plastic that doesn’t fit into the previous categories. This can include plastics like polycarbonate (used for food storage containers) or ABS (used for computer and electronics housings).

Are All Plastic Products With Chasing Arrows Recyclable?

Recyclability of plastic products

While the plastic Resin Identification Codes (RIC) can create an illusion of plastic recycling symbols, the reality is that not all plastic products are created equal when it comes to recycling. In fact, only a small percentage of plastic products actually get recycled.


Recycling rates for plastic products vary depending on the type of plastic and the availability of recycling centres and curbside recycling programs that accept them. 


For example, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) has a relatively high recycling rate of around 30%. Meanwhile, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) has a much lower recycling rate of around 3%.


Additionally, some plastics, such as polystyrene (PS), commonly used for egg cartons and disposable plates, are not accepted by many recycling programs at all due to their low economic value and difficulty in recycling


It’s important to note that even if a plastic product is technically recyclable, it still might not get recycled if it is not properly disposed of in a recycling bin. Contamination from other types of waste or food residue can render a plastic product unrecyclable.

Why Is Awareness About the Recyclability of Plastics Important?

Plastics Recyclability Awareness

Plastics that cannot be recycled by normal methods are often sent to landfills or incineration facilities. This can contribute to the accumulation of plastic waste in landfills, which can take hundreds of years to break down.


Incineration of plastic waste can also release harmful pollutants into the air, such as dioxins and furans, which can have negative impacts on human health and the environment. Additionally, burning plastic releases greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change.


The current global plastic recycling rate stands at approximately 9% as per the latest available data. This indicates that a significant proportion of plastic items produced cannot be recycled despite bearing the commonly recognized chasing arrow symbol


The accumulation of non-recyclable plastics has become a growing concern due to the inadequacy of existing recycling methods to address this crisis.

Is There an Innovative Solution to the Plastic Waste Crisis?


As we have seen, the environmental impact of plastics is a complex issue with no easy solution. However, innovative technologies, such as SynPet’s Thermal Conversion Process (TCP™), offer a promising solution to the problem of plastic pollution


TCP™ is a unique technology that recycles all waste plastics, including those that cannot be recycled by traditional methods like pyrolysis and gasification, into valuable and useful products.


What sets TCP™ apart from other waste management technologies is that it uses water as its reagent. This means that TCP™ does not require pretreatment for waste.


TCP™ technology is an example of a circular economy in action. By recycling plastic waste into naphtha, which is then used to produce new plastic goods that can be recycled again, it creates a closed-loop system that reduces the need for new plastic production. This approach is key to environmental sustainability.


If you want to learn more about the most advanced waste management technology to date, you can contact our team at any time.