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The triangular “chasing arrows” recycling symbol is everywhere: On disposable cups. On shower curtains. On children’s toys.

What a lot of shoppers might not know is that any product can display the sign, even if it isn’t recyclable. It’s false advertising, critics say, and as a result, countless tons of nonrecyclable garbage are thrown in the recycling bin each year, choking up the recycling system.

Late on Wednesday, California took steps toward becoming the first state to change that. A bill passed by the state’s Assembly would ban companies from using the arrows symbol unless they can prove the material is in fact recycled in most California communities and is used to make new products.

“It’s a basic truth-in-advertising concept,” said state Sen. Ben Allen, a Democrat and the bill’s lead sponsor. “We have a lot of people who are dutifully putting materials into the recycling bins that have the recycling symbols on them, thinking that they’re going to be recycled, but actually, they’re heading straight to the landfill,” he said.

The measure, which is expected to clear the state Senate and be signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, is part of a nascent effort across the country to fix a recycling system that has long been broken.

Although materials such as paper or metals are recycled widely, less than 10% of plastic consumed in the United States is recycled, according to the most recent estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency. Instead most plastic is incinerated or dumped in landfills, with the exception of some types of resins, like the kind used for bottled water or soda.

For years, the United States shipped much of its plastic waste overseas, choking rivers and streams. A global convention now bans most trade in plastic waste, although U.S. waste exports have not ceased completely.

This summer, Maine and Oregon passed laws requiring corporations to pay for the cost of recycling their packaging. In Oregon, the law included plans to establish a task force that would evaluate “misleading or confusing claims” related to recycling. Legislation is pending in New York that would, among other things, ban products from displaying misleading claims.

— © The New York Times Co.

 

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