What do the different recycling symbols mean?
We recommend you read through this official list of all symbols that refer to recyclability, it’s incredibly valuable: https://www.recyclenow.com/recycling-knowledge/packaging-symbols-explained.
Or for a quick snapshot, we’ve gathered the below for you.
The most recognised symbols in the UK are from Recycle Now, an initiative of the government waste body WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme). Their on-pack labelling on food items, for example, looks like:
“Widely Recycled” means 75% of people have access to recycling facilities for these items.
“Check locally” means 20% – 75% of people have access to recycling facilities for these items.
“Not recycled” means less than 20% of people have access to recycling facilities for these items.
The Mobius Loop is a universally recognised symbol and tells us an object is recyclable. Although whether the object can be recycled in a particular recycling centre is dependent on the facilities available.
Like this however (see left), the Mobius Loop does not indicate that the object contains any recycled content. Only when the loop contains a percentage sign, does it indicate recycled content. A Mobius Loop showing 50%, for example, implies the item contains 50% recycled content.
Plastic Resin Codes
Most plastics have one of these stamped into or written on them with a number inside. Despite common misconception, the numbers do not indicate whether something is more recyclable than the next – it’s simply a coded system to identify the type of plastic resin used.
Only by knowing about the different plastic type can you know if the object is recyclable. For example:
- PET or PETE (Polyethylene terephthalate) is widely recyclable in the UK. Example of an object made from PET: mineral water bottle.
- PP (Polypropylene) on the other hand is rarely recyclable. Example of an object made from PP: bottle lid.
The Green Dot symbol is not a recycling symbol and does not indicate an object is recyclable.
It is in fact a scheme covered under the European “Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive – 94/62/EC”. It means that the manufacturer contributes towards the cost of recovery and packaging.
This isn’t a recycling symbol. It appears on packaging as a reminder to the consumer to be considerate with how they dispose of it. It is a representation of ‘Do not litter’ and to recycle where appropriate.
It is commonly associated with the Keep Britain Tidy movement; a social enterprise dedicated to inspiring people to eliminate litter now and for future generations. Litter blights our streets, parks and beaches and costs us millions of pounds to clear up every year.
This symbol is about more than simply getting people to pick up litter. They aim to change behaviour permanently by spotlighting the problem daily and offering creative solutions.
ALU: Indicates the object is made from aluminium and can be recycled.
Example: drinks can.
Magnet: Indicates the object is made from steel and can be recycled.
Example: tinned food can.
The object is made from glass and can be recycled. Most glass bottles and jars are suitable for recycling even if they do not display this symbol.
Wood: The wood used in objects showing this symbol has come from a forest certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). It means the wood used is sustainably produced, and that you are not contributing to the destruction of the world’s forests.
Paper: This indicates an object has been certified by the National Association of Paper Merchants (NAPM), as being made from waste paper or waste cardboard. There are 3 variations of the symbol, depending on whether the object contains 50%, 75% or 100% recycled material.
Indicates the electronic item is covered by the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive).
The directive places responsibility for the disposal of waste electrical equipment on the manufacturer. The manufacturer should establish an infrastructure for collecting WEEE, so that consumers can return the WEEE free of charge. The manufacturer is also obliged to use the collected waste in an eco-friendly manner, either by ecological disposal or by reuse/refurbishment.
Often found on household batteries, this symbol indicates that they should be not be disposed of in household waste. Many supermarkets now have facilities to dispose of household batteries.