Consumers are encouraged to actively read the labels on everything they purchase in order to make the healthiest choices for their families. This includes ingredients, growing conditions, where something is made, and so forth. Most of these are easy enough for consumers to understand, and they are constantly being educated on how to interpret the terms used on packaging. However, decoding recycling symbols is not something most people are being educated on enough to make conscious decisions. Many look for the three arrow triangle with a number inside, and once they see that assume it is recyclable and are satisfied. Yet, those numbers actually give information about the materials used in the packaging which is important to understand.
The numbers found within the recycling symbol are known as SPI (The Society of Plastics Industry) resin identification coding numbers, and indicate specific types of resin that make up the plastic. Understanding this system fully allows consumers to make the smartest selection, but one of the guidelines of this system is to:
“Make the code inconspicuous at the point of purchase so it does not influence the consumer’s buying decision,” according to the plastics industry website. Regardless of their desire for the resin code to not influence buying decisions, it is.
This influence is especially being seen with number 7 marked plastics, as many sources on green living and health are encouraging consumers to completely avoid number 7 plastics. The reason that plastics marked with the number 7 currently have such a bad reputation is that the group has some plastics which may contain the quite controversial Bisphenol A (BPA).According to the Food and Drug Administration, BPA has long been used in food and beverage packaging but tests do revel that it can be harmful to the brain and behavior of children starting from their time in utero. Tests are still continuing, while BPA usage is being cut back or eliminated in most instances. Resin code 7 does not mean that BPAs are present, as some overzealous sources have suggested. This is actually the “other” group, a group with a wide mix of resin components and where many new plastics are found that do not fit into the traditional groups of numbers 1 through 6.
In addition to BPAs, bioplastics are also found here. Bioplastics are plastics made up of biological materials, which are renewable resources and also are typically compostable. This type of green packaging is marked with the same number 7 that some are discouraging consumers from using. Typically next to the number 7 symbol manufacturers will mark it as compostable to let consumers know the benefits of this type of plastic. As number 7 plastics are not accepted by most recycling programs, the fact that it is compostable allows for proper disposal which is also environmentally friendly.
It is rather shocking to read so much information encouraging consumers to avoid number 7 plastics at all costs, and really have to comb through multiple resources to find out the exact details on the many components of number 7 plastics. With the BPA scare so concerning and bioplastics still so new there seems to be little readily available information explaining the critical differences between these two materials. The biggest concern for consumers should be the harmful projecting of an undeserved bad reputation on bioplastics, a green plastic that is compostable and requires less energy to make.