What do Recycling Symbols Mean?

Recycling symbols are meant to easy the recycling process and tell you what the product is made of but do you know what these symbols actually mean?

Recycling Symbols

There are several recycling symbols that are aimed to help you understand what type of materials are used for the products and how to recycle it.

According to EPA data when you recycle you reduce the pollution in nature and conserve energy and natural resources. In 2015, the most recycled plastic product in United States were the plastic bottles. But still In the US, approximately 2,500,000 plastic bottles are used hourly and most of them end up in the landfill or the oceans. 

Recycling is the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products. Recyclable materials include many kinds of glass, paper, cardboard, metal, plastic, tires, textiles, batteries, and electronics. The composting or other reuse of biodegradable waste—such as food or garden waste—is also a form of recycling.

In 1988, the Society of the Plastics Industry implemented the Resin Identification Coding system—a designated number that manufacturers could stamp on their product (usually molded on the bottom) to indicate what type of plastic it was.

Let’s look at some of the most common recycling symbols and how understanding these symbols will help you place your plastic into the correct bin.

What Do Recycling Symbols Mean?

Widely Recycled symbol

Widely Recycled

This label is applied to packaging that is collected by 75% or more of local authorities across the UK or locations under UK authorities. The information on the label allows you to separate recyclables from non-recyclables easily.

It has been suggested by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Waste &
Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

Widely Recycled - Rinse

Widely Recycled – Rinse

This symbol is used across the UK or locations under UK authorities and it means that you have to rinse out your packaging before it can be recycled. The reason is to ensure it does not contaminate other recycling products or the recycling plant.

Not Yet Recycling Symbols

Not Currently Recycled

This symbol does exactly what it says on the tin. It cannot be recycled yet and less than 20% of local authorities collect it across the UK.

The black logo does not mean the packaging material is non-recyclable, but that it is recycled in a small number of councils.

Mobius Loop

Mobius Loop

This is the most well-known symbol associated with recycling. It is usually used to indicate that a product is recyclable (rather than being made of recycled material) although has no official usage rules.

The symbol may be accompanied by a percentage figure in the middle to explain that x% of the packaging is recycled.

Plastic Resin Codes

Plastic Resin Codes

The recycling code constitutes numbers 1 through 7. Sometimes below the numbers you also find the abbreviations for the plastic-type (PETE, HDPE, etc.). The most widely accepted plastics for recycling are number 1 and 2, also most plastic containers are type 1 and 2. Check the full list of the numbers, full names of the plastics they refer to, and some examples of common containers made of that product.

The recycling code for plastics was introduced in 1988 by the plastics industry through the Society of the Plastics Industry.

The Green Dot

The Green Dot is the symbol of a European network of industry-funded systems for recycling the consumer goods’ packaging materials.

The Packaging Waste Directive (PWD) was introduced by the European Union in 1992 to reduce the amount of packaging ending up in the landfill. The PWD stated that producers should contribute to paying for the recycling of the packaging waste that they place onto the market.

Glass Recycling

Glass Recycling

The Glass Packaging Institute (GPI) has also developed a ‘recyclable’ symbol for use on glass packaging that can be recycled. Although most glass containers can be considered recyclable, the symbol nevertheless encourages the systematic identifying and reusing, of recyclable materials.

Please keep in mind that you have to rinse the glass packaging, before throwing it in the recycle container.

Recyclable Steel

Recyclable Steel

This symbol means the packaging is made from steel that can be recycled, for example,
steel drinks and food cans.


Recyclable Aluminum

This indicates that a product is made from recyclable aluminium. Many household items, including drinks cans and food trays, are made from aluminium.

Please keep in mind that you have to rinse the can, or whatever packaging you are dealing with, before throwing it in the recycle container.

Waste electricals

Electrical Waste

The symbol represents waste electrical and electronic equipment comprises a crossed-out wheelie bin with or without a single black line underneath the symbol and it was adopted by the European Council. 

This symbol includes items that can be recycled such as household appliances, mobile phones to IT equipment.



You can find this logo on products certified to be industrially compostable according to the European standard EN 13432/14955. Don’t place items with this symbol in with regular recycling as it breaks down and can contaminate recyclable plastics. 

This symbol shows that the packaging is made from organic material and will break down naturally. 

Forest Stewardship Council logo

Paper, Cardboard & Wood

The Forest Stewardship Council symbol shows that the wood used to produce the material has come from a sustainable source and might be made of recycled material.



The Tidyman is the icon found on product packaging which encourages people to dispose of the packaging after use. This symbol is a reminder to people not to litter and disposing of the item in the most appropriate manner, but often is mistaken as a ‘throw it in the bin’ symbol.

Final Thoughts

By understanding what the recycling symbols mean we can do a better job at recycling and improve the recycling rate overall and reduce pollution. Most of the garbage thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1,000,000 sea creatures every year!

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