Recycling simbols explained

Recycling simbols explained

Packaging labels and recycling symbols are now appearing on lots of everyday items, and help us to identify how different types of packaging can be recycled. Still often can be confusing distinguish between this several number of labels that have slightly different meaning.

With this article we want to explain these symbols and give you a guide to understand them so you can recycle in the right way.

Please be aware that each country and even each town has its own recycling program. So be sure to check for your location’s rules to find out exactly what you can recycle. 

Labels are obviously distinguished by materials. Below is a list of the most common ones.

1. The Green Dot

The Green Dot is a widely recognised symbol in many European Countries. Althought it’s one of the most common symbol, it does not necessarily mean that the packaging is recyclable, will be recycled or has been recycled.

It signifies that for each piece of packaging, the producer has made a financial contribution to a national packaging recovery organisation. 

Indeed, the Green Dot (Der Grüne Punkt) is the symbol of a European network of industry-funded systems for recycling the consumer goods’ packaging materials. In 1992, the European Union introduced the Packaging Waste Directive (PWD) to reduce the amount of packaging ending up in the landfill. The PWD stated that producers should contribute in paying for the recycling of the packaging waste that they place onto the market. Basically, these policies only affect those that export packaged goods to countries that have implemented the Green Dot packaging waste system, or producers that ar located within those countries.

Moreover, in some countries the Green Dot is a mandatory trade mark, which means that the first person to place packaging onto the market must pay a licence fee to use the Green Dot in that country and ensure that the Green Dot is printed on their packaging.

2. The Mobius Loop

The Mobius Loop is the universal recycling symbol used to designate recyclable materials, nowadays appearing on lots of everyday items. The recycling symbol is in the public domain and is not a trademark.

It indicates that an object is capable of being recycled, not that the object has been recycled or will be accepted in all recycling collection systems. Sometimes this symbol is used with a percentage figure in the middle to explain that the packaging contains x% of recycled material.

In 1970 Gary Anderson, a USC Graduate student entered and won a design contest sponsored by CCA – Container Corporation of America. The competition was to design a graphic symbol which would be used on recycled paper products and which could recognize a commitment to environmental sensitivity on the part of any manufacturer who was engaged in recycling. The winning symbol would be given over to the public domain. The competition was also to honor the first – Earth Day – which was held that same year.

Gary’s simple but thoughtful design would go on to become the most iconic symbol of environmental action ever created. The symbol has circled the globe, evokes thought and action, it has no language barrier and never uses a single word.

Plastic Resin Codes

This is one of the most misunderstood symbols in the world. The Plastic Resin Code was developed in 1988 by the Society of the Plastics Industry (now the Plastics Industry Association) in the United States, but since 2008 it has been administered by ASTM International. The purpose of the original code was to provide a consistent national system to facilitate recycling of post-consumer plastics.

It identifies the type of plastic resin used to make the item by providing a ‘Resin Identification Code’. It is represented with a ‘chasing arrows’ symbol surrounding a a number between 1 and 7 that defines the resin used.

Plastic Recycling Symbol #1: PET or PETE

PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) is the most common plastic for single-use bottled beverages, such as soft drinks, water, sauces, dressing and vegetable oil containers, because it’s inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to recycle. It poses low risk of leaching breakdown products. Its recycling rates remain relatively low (around 20%), even though the material is in high demand by manufacturers.

Plastic Recycling Symbol #2: HDPE

HDPE (high density polyethylene) is a versatile plastic with many uses, especially when it comes to packaging of milk jugs, juice bottles, butter and yogurt tubs, household cleaner bottles, shampoo bottles, some trash and shopping bags. It carries low risk of leaching and is readily recyclable into many types of goods.

Plastic Recycling Symbol #3: PVC or V

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and V (vinyl) is tough and weathers well, so it’s commonly used for things like piping and siding. PVC is also cheap, so it’s found in plenty of products and packaging such as shampoo and cooking oil bottles, blister packaging, wire jacketing, siding, windows, piping. Because chlorine is part of PVC, it can result in the release of highly dangerous dioxins during manufacturing. Remember to never burn PVC, because it releases toxins.

Plastic Recycling Symbol #4: LDPE

LDPE (low density polyethylene) is a flexible plastic with many applications. it’s found in plenty of products and packaging such as squeezable bottles, bread, frozen food, dry cleaning, and shopping bags, tote bags, furniture. Historically, it hasn’t been accepted through most American recycling programs, but more and more communities are starting to accept it.

Plastic Recycling Symbols #5: PP

PP (polypropylene) has a high melting point, so it’s often chosen for containers that will hold hot liquid such as yogurt containers, syrup and medicine bottles, caps, straws. It’s gradually becoming more accepted by recyclers.

Plastic Recycling Symbol #6: PS

PS (polystyrene) can be made into rigid or foam products, such as disposable plates and cups, meat trays, egg cartons, carry-out containers, aspirin bottles, compact disc cases — in the latter case it is popularly known as the trademark Styrofoam. Styrene monomer (a type of molecule) can leach into foods and is a possible human carcinogen, while styrene oxide is classified as a probable carcinogen. The material was long on environmentalists’ hit lists for dispersing widely across the landscape, and for being notoriously difficult to recycle. Most places still don’t accept it in foam forms because it’s 98% air.

Plastic Recycling Symbol #7: Miscellaneous

A wide variety of plastic resins that don’t fit into the previous categories are lumped into this one. Polycarbonate is number seven plastic, and it’s the hard plastic that has worried parents after studies have shown it as a hormone disruptor. PLA (polylactic acid), which is made from plants and is carbon neutral, also falls into this category. It’s often chosen for three- and five-gallon water bottles, bullet-proof materials, sunglasses, DVDs, iPod and computer cases, signs and displays, certain food containers, nylon.

The old standard Plastic Resin Codes symbol

3. Glass

This symbol asks that you recycle the glass container. Please dispose of glass bottles and jars in a bottle bank, remembering to separate colours, or use your glass household recycling collection if you have one.

4. Recyclable aluminium

This symbol indicates that the item is made from recyclable aluminium.

5. Waste electricals

This symbol explains that you should not place the electrical item in the general waste. Electrical items can be recycled through a number of channels.

Electrical and Electronic Equipment that was produced after 13 August 2005 should display this symbol on the packaging or product. Either send the product to be repaired or use the recycling locator to find out where it can be recycled. 

6. Recyclable steel

This symbol means that the product is made of steel. All local authorities collect steel cans for recycling. Other steel or metal items can be taken to your household recycling centre.

7. Seedling Compostable logo

Products certified to be industrially compostable according to the European standard EN 13432/14955 may bear the ‘seedling’ logo.

Never place compostable plastic into the recycling with other plastics; as it is designed to break down it cannot be recycled and contaminates recyclable plastics. Plastics that carry this symbol can be recycled with your garden waste through your local authority.

8. Home composting

In addition to the seedling symbol for industrial composting, you may see this one which means that it is suitable to be home composted.

9. Paper, card and wood

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo identifies wood-based products from well managed forests independently certified in accordance with the rules of the FSC.

Remember: not all packaging will have a recycling label but this doesn’t mean you can’t recycle it.

Check also our article 5 tips to use less plastic!