Recycling symbols

What do they all mean?

When it comes to recycling, it's something we all like to do. But knowing what we can and cannot recycle, and how and where, can all be a complete minefield.

We're all used to seeing a whole range of different recycling symbols on the packaging of items we come into contact with every day. Having such a system should help to make it much clearer how the packaging should be disposed. But, with so many different logos, and many of them looking very similar, how much do we really know on what they actually mean?

Looking at a simple symbol printed on the packaging of the items we come into contact each day should make it easy. One quick glance and we know exactly how to dispose of it. Yeah, right! I'm sure I'm not the only person to get confused by the number of different logos, especially with many of them looking very similar? 

Adding further confusion is the big variation between each local authority's recycling availability. In Peterborough, for example, many people are not aware that we are in one of the few local authorities where we can recycle carrier bags in our kerbside bins so it's really important to keep abreast on your local authority guidelines.

Here's a quick guide to the main logos we see on packaging:

Recycling logo / Mobius Loop  

Perhaps the most recognisable recycling sign, the Mobius loop was originally created by Gary Anderson. The three arrows are used to represent the three “R”s  – reducing, reusing and recycling. The negative space (in the centre) is also designed to represent a pine tree, whilst also being a variant of the traditional “Mobius” loop which symbolises continuity with a finite entity. As the symbol was originally going to apply to just paper, the folding chasing arrows were designed to resemble folded newspapers.

The three green arrows going in a triangle simply means that it's capable of being recycled. Sometimes, the symbol will come with a percentage in the middle, signifying how much of it has been made from recycled materials.

Te symbol on its own indicates the packaging can be recycled. It doesn’t indicate that the packaging has been or is made from recycled material, merely that it can be in the future. When shown with a percentage figure, this is to show how much of the pack has been manufactured from recycled materials.

The Green Dot 

The Green Dot logo does not actually mean that the packaging in question has been recycled, nor that it can be recycled (meaning it can sometimes be found on reusable packaging). It simply signifies that the producer has made a (usually financial) contribution towards the recycling of packaging. 

The logo is an internationally protected trademark of PRO Europe – Packaging Recovery Organisation Europe – and a valid license must be obtained before it can be used. It's mandatory in France, Germany, Portugal and Spain, whilst voluntary in most of the rest of Europe (including the UK). It is required specifically on the unit sales of packaging where it is visible to the consumer.


The Forest Stewardship Council logo identifies paper/cardboard which contain wood from well managed forests (requires certification). 


The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) is an international, non-profit, non-governmental organization which promotes sustainable forest management through independent third-party certification. It is considered the certification system of choice for small forest owners.

Packaging recycling

Perhaps the symbols which cause most confusion. Used on packaging, these symbols are a guide to how widely different packaging items are recycled. They are NOT an instruction on how to dispose of the packaging it is used. For example, 'Widely Recycled' means 75% of people have access to recycling facilities for these items and 'Not recycled' means less than 20% of people have access to recycling facilities for these items. You should therefore follow the advice of your local authority. To check what you can recycle in your area, check the recycling locator.

Widely recycled: Used on packaging that is collected by 75% (or more) of local authorities across the UK. This includes, for example, cardboard and plastic bottles.

Widely recycled - rinse: As per above, but with instructions to rinse so that food / product residue does not contaminate other materials to be recycled.

Widely recycled - rinse, lid on: Widely recycled, but with instructions to keep the lids on (e.g. glass jars). This is to prevent metal lids falling through sorting holes during the decontamination process. It can also help prevent other materials getting stuck inside.

Widely recycled - flatten, cap on: Flattening items such as plastic bottles makes transit more efficient (shipping less air), reducing cost and environmental impact.

Widely recycled / Sleeve not yet recycled: This applies to items such as drinks bottles where the plastic sleeve is not recyclable, and should be removed prior to collection.

Widely recycled at recycling centres: This applies to all products that are not eligible for kerbside collection, but can be taken to local household recycling centres (e.g. paint tins). It's important to check your local authority guidelines

Widely recycled / check locally for kerbside: Used on packaging that's collected by between 20% and 75% of local authorities (e.g. specific types of plastic) but check with your local authority first.

Recycle with bags at larger stores: Certain types of plastics and films can be recycled along with supermarket carrier bags (this includes wraps found on newspapers, toilet rolls etc.). Recycling points for these are usually found at larger stores

Not yet recycled

This symbol indicates that less that 20% of local authorities will collect the packaging for recycling (an example being crisp packets).


Three arrows in a triangle means that the item is capable of being recycled. The numbers and letters act as identification for the recycling teams. Plastics are classified into one of seven categories, each one a different material that is more or less easy to recycle.

1. PET, Polyethylene Terephthalate, and is widely recycled.

2. HDPE, High-Density Polyethylene, and is also widely recycled.

3. PVC, Polyvinyl Chloride, and is capable of being recycled but harder to do so, so check with your local authority.

4. LDPE, Low-Density Polyethylene, also capable of being recycled, but check with your local authority.

5. PP, Polypropylene, hard or not possible to recycle, so try to reuse or avoid it. PP is used in tupperware, disposable cups, and some food containers.

6. PS, Polystyrene or Styrofoam, hard or not possible to recycle, so try to reuse or avoid it. PS is used in disposable coffee cups, plastic cutlery and packing foam.

7. Other. This is usually a mish mash of lots of different plastics and is pretty tricky to recycle.