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Decoding recycling symbols

Written by
Poppy Stringer
4
min read
August 24, 2023

Recycling has become an essential practice in our efforts to reduce waste and minimize our environmental impact. One of the most common ways to identify recyclable materials is through recycling symbols. These symbols, often found on packaging and products, serve as a guide to help us understand the recyclability, composition, and appropriate disposal methods. In this blog, we will dive into the meaning behind different recycling symbols and how they contribute to a more sustainable future.

1. The universal recycling symbol (The Mobius Loop)
Perhaps the most recognisable of all recycling symbols. It consists of three chasing arrows forming a triangle, often accompanied by a number indicating the resin type. This symbol does not necessarily mean an item is recyclable everywhere, but it signifies that the product is made from recycled materials or that it can be recycled in specific facilities.

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2. Aluminium recycling
Indicates that an item is made from aluminium and is widely recyclable. Aluminium is highly valuable in recycling due to its infinite recyclability without losing quality.

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3. Glass Recycling
Glass products often carry a glass recycling symbol. This doesn't necessarily mean the item can be recycled through your local curb-side program, but glass, as a material, is highly recyclable.

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4. The Green Dot
Does not directly indicate whether a product is recyclable. Instead, it signifies that the manufacturer has financially participated in a packaging recovery and recycling initiative. This aligns with the extended producer responsibility model, wherein companies contribute fees to aid waste management and recycling efforts. While the symbol's meaning may differ by region, its primary objective remains consistent: to contribute funding and advocacy for sustainable waste management practices.

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5. Widely recycled
Essentially a communication tool used by manufacturers to inform consumers that the packaging material or product it's affixed to is compatible with existing recycling systems. In other words, the item is made from a material that recycling facilities can efficiently process and reintroduce into the production stream.Β 

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6. Not yet recycled
Indicates that the packaging is recycled by less than 20% of authorities across the UK.Β 

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7. FSC
FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) Recycle symbol is a mark of distinction that assures consumers that wood and paper products have been sourced from responsibly managed forests and are part of a recycling-friendly ecosystem.

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8. Tidyman
Is a visual prompt often seen in public spaces, parks, and recreational areas. This simple yet impactful symbol is designed to encourage individuals to dispose of their waste properly and maintain cleanliness in shared environments.

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9. Compostable
Often depicted as a circle of arrows surrounding a small leaf, signifies an important step towards sustainable waste management and reducing our environmental impact. This symbol guides consumers toward items that can break down naturally and contribute to nutrient-rich soil through the composting process.

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10. Home composting
Encourages individuals to compost their kitchen scraps and yard waste at home, reducing the amount of organic waste that ends up in landfills, it is often seen alongside the industrial composting symbol.

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Plastic packaging symbols

PETE or PET (polyethylene terephthalate)
Commonly used for beverage bottles, food containers, and some clothing fibres (like polyester). It is transparent, lightweight, and relatively strong. It's widely recycled and can be found in products like water bottles and certain food containers.

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HDPE (high-density polyethylene)
Known for its toughness, resistance to chemicals, and durability. It's used in products like milk jugs, detergent bottles, and plastic bags. HDPE is one of the most widely recycled plastics.

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V or LDPE (low-density polyethylene)
LDPE is flexible and often used for items like plastic bags, squeezable bottles, and some food wraps. It's not as commonly recycled as other plastics due to its lower density and flexibility.

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PP (polypropylene)
Known for its high melting point, making it suitable for products that need to withstand heat. It's used in items like yoghurt containers, bottle caps, and certain food packaging. PP is recyclable and is accepted by many recycling programs.

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PS (polystyrene)
Can be found in two common forms: rigid (used in products like disposable cutlery and CD cases) and expanded (used in foam packaging and cups, often known as "Styrofoam"). PS recycling can be more limited due to infrastructure challenges.

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OTHER (other plastics)
This category includes plastics that don't fall into the above categories. It's a catch-all category that may encompass less common or newer plastic types. The specific type of plastic should ideally be specified nearby.

Recycling symbols play a vital role in guiding us toward more environmentally responsible choices. By understanding these symbols, we can make informed decisions about which products to purchase and how to properly dispose of them. As consumers, our conscious choices can collectively contribute to a more sustainable and eco-friendly future.

Poppy Stringer

Our eco-conscious blog writer. Passionate about sustainability, she's on a mission to combat ecosystem decline with insightful blogs, driven by her concern for the planet's future.