What do All The Recycling Symbols Mean?

Many different labels and symbols appear on packaging to advise people and to promote environmental awareness. The symbols all adhere to the Green Claims Code a Government produced document which sets out the standard information the public can expect to see about the environmental impact of the products they are using.

Symbols are used on thousands of different products and the symbols will fall into several categories.


Electronic Recycling Symbols

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  • The United Kingdom cartridge recycling association apply their symbol to toner cartridges which have met set criteria making them able to be recycled easily.
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  • All electrical and electronic equipment placed on the market after 13th August 2005 must now be marked with the crossed out wheelie bin symbol in accordance with the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) regulations. Which were brought into law on July 1st 2007.

Glass Recycling Symbols

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  • This symbol indicates that the container it is marked with should be placed into a bottle recycling bank.

Metal Recycling Symbols

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  • This shows that the container or packaging is made from aluminium and so can be recycled. Many drinks cans are made from aluminium but many are made from steel. This symbol allows you to identify between the 2 metals.
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  • The recycling steel symbol is another way of identifying similar types of metal making the recycling process easier.

Paper Recycling Symbols

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  • The National association of paper merchants allow there symbol to be placed on paper and cardboard products which are made from no less than 75% of waste paper or fibre. None of the 75% can come from mill produced waste fibre either.
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  • In Germany a paper and board recycling scheme called RESY exists. RESY is a consortium including the union of paper producers, the union of cardboard producers and a recycling and reverse logistics specialist Vfw AG.

Plastic Recycling Symbols

With so many different plastics in circulation and virtually no way of identifying them to the untrained eye a plastics identification system has been developed. The PIC (Plastics Identification Code) makes it easy to identify different plastics with the symbol being embossed into most plastic made products.

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  • Polyethylene Terepthalate: Most common in Soft Drink bottles and accepted in kerbside collection schemes from your local authority. Otherwise, recycle bins and recycling centres will accept these.
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  • High Density Polyethylene: Found in plastic juice bottles, some yogurt pots and several plastic household bottles. These are largely accepted in kerbside recycling schemes from your local authority.
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  • PVC – Polyvinyl Chloride: Best to check with your local authority as this is not widely accepted in kerbside schemes.
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  • Low Density Polyethylene: Largely recyclable in kerbside collections. Common products include household & bathroom products and plastic lock bags.
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  • Polypropylene: Consists of certain food containers that are not HDPE or LDPE such as some sauce bottles. Mainly recyclable in most kerbside schemes.
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  • Polystyrene: Unfortunately, not widely accepted in most recycling schemes. Please check with your local authority. Many takeaway restaurants have historically used packaging made of this.
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  • All other resin and multi-materials: Used to identify plastics that do not fit into the above categories.


As you can see, there is many different recycling symbols used and this handy guide will hopefully help you understand what are the different recycling symbols that are used.