California is on track to become the first state to restrict how the "chasing arrows" recycling symbol is used, a move that could have an impact across the country.
California state lawmakers passed a bill banning companies from using the arrows symbol unless they can prove the material is recycled and can be used to make new products.
Pete Keller, the VP of recycling and sustainability at Republic Services, one of the nation's largest recycling and waste companies, says 22% of the items the company receives can't be recycled. He says a good portion of those materials includes the chasing arrows symbol.
Films and flexible plastics are often marketed as recyclable, even though they will likely end up in landfills.
Keller added that batteries pose an even bigger problem.
"They always have a little trash can with an x on it, so it says don't don't put in the garbage," Keller said. "And the recycling arrows on batteries (are meant to signify) a take-back system, but you get a lot of confusion at the curb, and people just think it should be included in the recycling stream."
Keller also noted that consumers aren't always aware of what items are acceptable to recycle in their community and aren't aware that recycling should not be placed in plastic bags.
Another area of confusion is the "resin identification code."
"It was designed to look like the chasing arrows, but it isn't technically the chasing arrows," Keller said. "It's a triangle around a number. So, that's caused a lot of confusion in the marketplace.
Keller hopes restrictions around the chasing arrows symbol in California will lead to packaging design changes. Those changes may extend to product packaging nationwide since they'll already have to comply with California law.
The Plastics Industry Association says it believes labeling restrictions will confuse consumers even more about what to recycle. But Keller noted that continued public education is key to getting most people to recycle the right way.