On-pack recycling labels refer to certain qualities of the labelled product – what is it made of, how it should be recycled, or some other information given by the producer. Here are presented some of the most common recycling symbols with their meanings explained.
The Mobius Loop is probably the most popular symbol of recycling. It represents is that the labelled product is recyclable; however, it does not guarantee that your local curbside recycling programs will accept that type of waste, nor that the product is made of recycled materials.
Contrary to the popular belief, the green dot does not symbolize that an item is recyclable, but rather that the producer has made some kind of a financial contribution to the recycling of packaging.
Symbol of a man putting trash in a bin does not indicate recyclability of the labelled product – he acts as a friendly reminder not to litter.
This logo is a reminder to separate your glass waste according to color, and dispose of it in a bottle bank. All glass waste is recyclable.
Number 70 inside the universal recycling symbol can be found on clear glass – jars, bulbs, glasses, bottles.
This logo can be found on green glass bottles, like wine bottles.
This logo represents brown glass which is commonly used for beer bottles, whiskey bottles and similar.
The following symbols appear on plastic products. Take note that most of these types of plastic are recyclable, but in reality, only 20-30% is actually being recycled. Significantly reducing the use of plastic (especially for single-use) should be the main strategy to deal with “the plastic problem”. It’s not just about the environment, it’s about health too. Much of the food we eat and water we drink comes in plastic packaging. Over time, that packaging contaminates the food and water with microplastics. A study performed in 2018 by the University of New York at Fredonia (https://orbmedia.org/sites/default/files/FinalBottledWaterReport.pdf) concluded that staggering 93% of bottled water showed some sign of microplastic contamination. Their samples included bottles from eleven different brands, purchased in nine different countries.
It is important to know what are the things we interact with and eat from made of, and how they affect our health and the environment. On different plastic items and packaging you can find logos that indicate what are the products made of, and if they are recyclable.
1. PET (Polyethylene terephthalate)
Number 1 inside the universal recycling symbol stands for polyethylene terephthalate (acronym PET), the most common thermoplastic polymer resin. PET is made for single-use applications, because repeated use increases the risk of leaching and bacterial contamination. It is recyclable but not reusable because of the previously mentioned qualities.
PET is used for making polyester fibers, various packaging materials – mostly bottles and containers for different beverages, cosmetics, pharmaceutical and cleaning products. PET bottles are commonly accepted by curbside recycling programs.
2. HDPE (High-density polyethylene)
Number 2 inside the universal recycling symbol represents high-density polyethylene (HDPE), a thermoplastic polymer mostly used in the production of bottles, bags, trash cans, corrosion-resistant pipes, plastic lumber (PL) and geomembranes. It has wide use in both chemical and pharmaceutical industries because of its resistance to many aggressive chemicals.
HDPE is recyclable and reusable. It can be easily remolded to make new drainage pipes, fences, tables, floor tiles, lumber and similar products. HDPE is usually accepted by curbside recycling programs.
3. PVC (Polyvinyl chloride)
Number 3 inside the universal recycling symbol represents polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or vinyl. PVC is world’s third most produced plastic polymer. It is widely used in construction for pipes, wire insulation, windows and doors, also in manufacture of bottles, food foils, non-food packaging (bubble-foil), cards (membership, bank, ID cards), etc. PVC is infamous for the toxic chemicals it leaches during its life cycle.
Vinyl is not accepted by curbside recycling programs and is rarely recycled. Certain institutions are currently trying to resolve this problem and boost the collection and recycling of PVC waste. If there is such an institution in your city, big chances are that they will gladly accept your PVC waste.
4. LDPE (Low-density polyethylene)
Number 4 inside the universal recycling symbol stands for low-density polyethylene (LDPE). This thermoplastic polymer is widely used for producing general-purpose containers, packaging of computer hardware, plastic wraps, molded laboratory equipment, toys, carrier bags and similar products.
Items made of LDPE are reusable, but not always recyclable. LDPE recycling is in development, so you should check if your local curbside recycling programs accept LDPE waste.
5. PP (Polypropylene)
Number 5 inside the universal recycling symbol represents polypropylene (PP), a thermoplastic polymer with a huge variety of application. It is most commonly used for producing industrial fibers, straws, beverage cups, bumpers and similar products. Because it is resistant to high temperatures, freezing, aggressive chemicals and physical damage, it also has a wide use in construction and the medical industry.
Polypropylene recycling is increasing by the day and your local curbside program will probably accept PP waste.
6. PS (Polystyrene)
Number 6 inside the universal recycling symbol represents polystyrene (PS), one of the most widely used plastics today. It is used for packaging, manufacture of containers, bottles, trays, lids, molds, toys, etc. Styrofoam is one of the most common polystyrene products, notorious for its low recyclability and bad effect on the environment.
Most curbside recycling programs don’t accept polystyrene, so it has to be transported to a centralized plant instead.
Other plastics include fiberglass, acrylic, polycarbonate and polylactic fibers or any other plastic that doesn’t fall into previous six categories. The number 7 inside the universal recycling symbol marks this type of plastic.
No curbside recycling program accepts this kind of plastic. Its use should be avoided as much as possible.
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene
ABS inside the universal recycling symbol represents that the item is made of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene – a common thermoplastic polymer often found in cell phones, monitor and TV cases, camera housings, most computer plastic, etc. It can be recycled, but it is not accepted by local curbside recycling programs.
Polyamides occur naturally and are made artificially. Some examples of natural polyamides include wool and silk. The most common artificial polyamide is nylon, used for making toothbrush bristles, stockings, socks and similar products. Nylon can be recycled, but it is not accepted by curbside recycling programs.
Number 8 inside the universal recycling symbol stands for lead. Lead is used to make car batteries. Lead is one of the most effectively recycled materials in the world. More than 80% of all battery lead is recycled and about 47% of total world lead production comes from recycled materials.
Number 9 inside the universal recycling symbol can be found on alkaline batteries which power remote controls, old cell phones, computers and cameras. You may be able to dispose of alkaline batteries at a local electronics retailer or recycling center.
This logo can be found on nickel-cadmium batteries. They can be found in cell phones, computers, cameras, power tools, etc. Nickel-cadmium batteries are recyclable.
Number 11 inside the universal recycling symbol represents nickel–metal hydride batteries. They are rechargeable and recyclable. Ni-MH batteries are commonly used for powering cell phones, computers, cameras and power tools.
This is logo is found on lithium batteries, which are widely used in portable electronic devices and in electric vehicles. Lithium batteries are recyclable.
This logo indicates that the marked product is made of recyclable aluminum. Aluminum foil also falls into this category. To make the recycling easier, remove food residues and scrunch the foil into a ball before you throw it in the trash.
Magnet attracting a tin can is a symbol for recyclable steel. Steel is one of the most recycled materials in the world because of its metallurgical properties – it can be recycled continually without a significant drop in quality.
Electrical products that have this logo are recyclable. Best way to dispose of electrical waste is to take it to an E-waste drop-off point. There are probably a few E-waste points across your city, so be sure to check which one is the closest to your home or workplace.
Paper & Wood
The Forest Steward Council (FSC) logo marks that the product is made of wood obtained from an ecologically managed forest.
Number 20 inside the universal recycling symbol represents items made of carboard. Carboard is recyclable, but not all locales accept it. Carboard which has a plastic layer (juice packaging, soda cases, etc.) is not recyclable.
This logo signifies that product contains mixed paper, like magazines, leaflets, junk mail, etc.
This is logo marks plain paper (like office paper). This type of paper waste is easily recycled.
PPB stands for paperboard, which is used for making book covers, frozen food boxes, greeting cards and similar.
Number 81 inside the universal recycling symbols indicates that the marked product is made from a combination of paper and plastic. That includes consumer packaging, pet food bags, cold store grocery bags, ice cream containers, cardboard cans, disposable plates and similar. This type of paper is hard to recycle and curbside recycling programs don’t accept it.
The seedling marks that the labelled product is industrially compostable by European standards.