What do the Recycling Symbols Mean?

The advice around what can and can’t go in the recycling is baffling at the best of times.

The rules around recycling constantly change too, but progress is being made, and efforts around garbage disposal mean that less is going to waste.

However, it’s hard to keep up with, so we created a guide to recycling symbols and what they mean, so you can confidently dispose of your items when they’re good to go.


According to research, 73 percent of consumers could identify the Mobius loop symbol but didn’t know exactly what it meant. 

Consisting of three green arrows in a triangle formation, this symbol means an item can be recycled. Occasionally a percentage will be included in the middle, which shows how much of it has been made from recycled materials.


This tells us the type of plastic resin used to make an item. Represented by three black chasing arrows surrounding a number in the center, this tells us the type of plastic resin used to make an item.

The numbers are between 1 and 7, it may also have ‘PET’ written underneath it. You can identify the type of plastic and how it should be recycled based on the number in the center of the symbol. 

Plastics are classified into one of seven groups; each one is a different material that is either more or less easy to recycle:

1 = PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate –  widely recyclable)
2 = HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene – widely recyclable)
3 = PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride – more difficult to recycle, check with your local authority)
4 = LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene – more challenging to recycle; check with your local authority)
5 = PP (Polypropylene – hard or not possible to recycle)
6 = PS (Polystyrene or Styrofoam – hard or not possible to recycle)
7 = other (usually a mix of different plastics and is unlikely to be recyclable)


If you see this symbol, it means the product can be widely recycled and is done so by at least 75 percent of local authorities.

Sometimes, ‘widely recycled’ comes with additional writing underneath it. These are instructions for the condition the packaging should be in when it is taken to be recycled. For example, “rinse” means the container should be rinsed out before collection, and “rinse/lid on” means the lid needs to be put back on after the product is rinsed.

Other additional instructions you might see include “flatten/cap on”, which is when an item should be compressed, and ‘remove sleeve’.


According to research, nearly half the people they surveyed believed the Green Dot meant that something could be recycled. In fact, these two interlocking green arrows mean that the manufacturers have made a financial contribution to recycling services in Europe. It doesn’t mean the product itself is recyclable.


This symbol means that a product is only recycled by 20 -75 percent of national regions, so you should check with your local council before putting it in your recycling. It’s represented by a white circular arrow on a black background.


FSC stands for Forest Stewardship Council, an international non-profit organization that promotes responsible management of the world’s forests through timber certification.

The symbol below of a tree merging into a ‘tick’ confirms the material has been made from wood sourced from a responsibly managed forest that complies with the FSC’s independent guidelines.


This symbol means an item is made from recyclable aluminum, which includes foil. Remember to scrunch the product into a ball before you dispose of it. The bigger the ball, the easier it is to recycle.


This symbol shows that an item is made from recyclable steel. All steel can be continuously recycled without any damage or degradation to its properties—no matter the product or form it takes. It is one of the most recycled materials with over 60 percent of steel recycled annually.

However, steel should be taken to a recycling center rather than putting it in your home recycling bin.


This symbol means the glass packaging should go into your home recycling bin. Glass that doesn’t have this symbol (like light bulbs) should go to your local recycling center.


And finally, the image of a threaded-through leaf means a product is compostable, and you should put it in your garden waste bin. If you don’t have this collection service or your bin is full, you can recycle garden waste at recycling centers.

Some local authorities provide a special bin for your garden waste and collect it as part of their household collection scheme. Garden waste collected at the curbside is taken to a composting site, where it is turned into soil conditioner, which can be purchased from local garden centers.

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