Packaging Recycling and Sustainability Symbols in the US: An Overview

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Packaging recycling and sustainability symbols can be applied to plastic, paper, and other packaging materials. Some symbols only indicate the materials used, while others are used for the sake of stating if the packaging is made using recycled materials.

In this guide, you will learn what US importers, brands, and manufacturers need to know about the Resin Identification Code (RIC) system, the BPI Certification Mark, and FSC symbols.

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Resin Identification Code

The purpose of the Resin Identification Code (RIC) system is to help consumers and waste recovery facilities identify the different types of resins. This facilitates the sorting and recycling process. However, the RIC doesn’t necessarily imply that a product or packaging is recyclable.

The RIC is a set of equilateral triangles containing a number in the middle and a code below the triangle. The numbers and the codes are used to identify the plastic resin out of which the product is made (e.g. 1-PET).

The RIC was developed by the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI). In its original form, the symbols used as part of the RIC consisted of arrows that cycle clockwise to form a triangle that encloses a number.

The ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) adopted the RIC system under the standard ASTM D7611/D7611M – Standard Practice for Coding Plastic Manufactured Articles for Resin Identification, and in 2013 revised the symbol to avoid misunderstandings on its meaning and use.

The reason is that the chasing arrows are commonly associated with “recyclable products”, while the goal of the RIC is to identify resin content, not to state if a certain product or packaging is recyclable.

Is the Resin Identification Code mandatory?

The use of RIC is voluntary in the United States. However, given the fact that it aids the recycling process, companies can benefit by using the system as more and more consumers choose to prioritize products that are perceived as more eco-friendly than their competitors.

Packaging Materials

The RIC is applicable to plastic products or packaging that are made of different types of plastics, such as PET or PVC. Here we provide some examples:

  • Cosmetic containers (1-PET)
  • Cereal box liners (2-HDPE)
  • Wall and floor coverings (3-PVC)
  • Shipping envelopes (4-LDPE)
  • Appliance housings (5-PP)
  • Disposable cutlery (6-PS)


Companies using the RIC should follow the requirements of ASTM D7611, as outlined below. Additionally, they should avoid misleading consumers into thinking that a given product or packaging is recyclable, for products that are not recyclable.

ASTM D7611 – Standard Practice for Coding Plastic Manufactured Articles for Resin Identification

ASTM D7611 specifies the coding numbers for 7 types of resins below:

Material / Substance Code Number
Polyethylene terephthalate PETE or PET 1
High-density polyethylene HDPE or PE-HD 2
Poly (vinyl chloride) PVC or V 3
Low-density polyethylene LDPE or PE-LD 4
Polyethylene PP 5
Polystyrene PS 6
Other resins Other or O 7

Title 16 Part 260 – Guides For The Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (FTC)

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sets forth a set of guides regarding environmental advertising claims in Part 260, Title 16 of Code of Federal Regulations – Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims.

It is a deceptive behavior for a manufacturer to claim or imply that a product or packaging is recyclable unless it can be collected, separated through an established recycling program for reuse, and recycled.

Since the FTC deems that many companies purposefully use the RIC to claim the recyclability of their product or packaging, the symbol should be placed in an inconspicuous location (e.g. at the bottom of the product or packaging) to avoid any claim of recyclability.

Conversely, if a manufacturer places the RIC in a conspicuous location (e.g. in the front of the packaging), the symbol is interpreted as a claim of packaging recyclability.

California – SB-343 Environmental advertising: recycling symbol: recyclability: products and packaging

California SB-343 on Environmental advertising: recycling symbol: recyclability: products and packaging prohibit anyone from selling, distributing, or importing into California any product or packaging that contains deceptive or misleading claims about the recyclability of the product or packaging.

As a result, it prohibits the use of the RIC unless the product or packaging meets the requirements for statewide recyclability.


You might need to invest in the necessary lab testing to prove the product or packaging recyclability – If you decide to place the RIC in a conspicuous location of the product or packaging

Packaging recycling symbols united states

BPI Certification Mark

The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) is an organization that advocates the use of biodegradable and compostable materials. The BPI Certification Mark Scheme allows manufacturers and brand owners to verify the compostability and biodegradability of their products or packaging.

The scheme requires to test products or packaging according to relevant ASTM or ISO standards for compostability, including:

a. ASTM D6400 -Standard Specification for Labeling of Plastics Designed to be Aerobically Composted in Municipal or Industrial Facilities

b. ASTM D5338 – Standard Test Method for Determining Aerobic Biodegradation of Plastics Materials Under Controlled Composting Conditions; Incorporating Thermophilic Temperatures

c. ISO 20200 Plastics – Determination of the Degree of Disintegration of Plastic Materials Under Simulated Composting Conditions In A Laboratory-scale Test

d. ISO 16929 Plastics – Determination of the degree of disintegration of plastic materials under defined composting conditions in a pilot-scale test

When is the BPI Certification Mark required?

The BPI Certification Mark is a voluntary mark. However, importers or manufacturers could apply for the BPI Certification Mark Scheme as means to verify and demonstrate that their products or packaging comply with the ASTM or ISO standards for biodegradable materials.

Having a BPI Certification Mark on the products or packaging showcases the enterprise’s value in social responsibility to some extent. This serves as a branding purpose and in turn, attracts customers with environmental preferences.

Packaging Materials

The BPI Certification Mark can be applied to products such as:

  • Cups
  • Lids
  • Paper containers
  • Clear containers
  • Utensils
  • Straws
  • Food packaging


If a company wants to apply for the BPI certification scheme, it should follow the below process.


In order to qualify for BPI certification, a product or packaging:

a. cannot require disassembly in order to be composted

b. must be associated with “desirable organic wastes” for composting (e.g. food scraps)


Companies must test their products or packaging in independent laboratories according to the relevant ASTM or ISO standards.

Technical Review

Once they have received all required test reports and representative physical samples, the BPI performs the technical review. The reviewing process takes an average of 4 weeks.

Artwork Review

Applicants must submit the product and packaging artwork to BPI for confirmation. The artwork must meet the requirements for use as outlined in the license agreement. BPI provides guidelines on the alternative versions, color, and size requirements in Certification Mark Usage Requirements.

Final steps

The last step in the certification process is to complete the final paperwork and payment. Applicants also need to fill out a worksheet that includes specific information, such as SKU and product title.


The fee for BPI Certification Mark is $1,500 for first-time applicants. The certifications are valid for 3 years. Each recertification cost $1,000.

FSC Recycled Label

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a non-profit organization established in 1993 which aims to implement a scientific and responsible management system to administer the forests around the globe.

Companies can use the FSC labels on their products, which are FSC 100%, FSC Recycled, and FSC Mix.

FSC Recycled label: Products that bear the FSC Recycled label indicate that the product is made from 100% recycled content.

FSC Mix label: When products bear the FSC Mix label, it means that they are made using a mixture of materials from FSC-certified forests, recycled materials, and/or FSC controlled wood.

FSC 100% Label: Products that bear an FSC 100% Label indicate that the products are made of materials sourced from forests that have been audited by an independent third party and comply with the FSC’s social and environmental standards.

Is the FSC recycled label mandatory?

The FSC Recycled label is not mandatory to use. However, companies could still benefit from using the FSC Recycled label to attract consumers (and retailers) that are interested in more sustainable products. Products with FSC Recycled labels are also appealing to retailers that only sell sustainable products.

Packaging Materials

FSC Recycled label can be applied to products or packaging materials such as


In this section, we summarize the FSC certification processes for products or packaging.

Submit a certification application

Companies can pick an FSC-accredited certification body and submit a certification application.

Ensure Chain of Custody Standard

Companies should ensure that their materials or product suppliers are FSC certified.


Before receiving the FSC certification, companies must be audited by the FSC certification audit team in accordance with relevant FSC requirements. A certified company can use the FSC symbol on its products or packaging.


The cost to receive FSC certification varies depending on the FSC-certified agency. You can contact an FSC-certified agency in your region for a quote.

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