Recycling symbols and what they mean

A quick glance at your packaging will tell you whether you can recycle it or not. But only if you know what you’re looking for. There are so many symbols out there, all looking like they say ‘recyclable’ however the majority are not. Arrows in a loop do not always mean recyclable. The sooner we dispel the myths about recycling symbols and what they mean, the sooner we can stop contaminating our bins!  

It’s important to add that even if packaging can be recycled, it doesn’t mean your council can recycle it. Capabilities differ across the country, so to be sure, always check the recycling locator on your Greenredeem account for what can be recycled in your area.

Commonly misunderstood ‘recycling symbols’ 

The Green Dot 

This one is perhaps the most misunderstood recycling symbol there is. It’s green, the arrows are circular, and it’s on most packaging. But it does not mean the item can be recycled, it doesn’t mean it’s made from recycled material either. All the Green Dot does, is signify that the manufacturers pay money towards the recovery and recycling of products across Europe. Not necessarily the product you’re holding either. It could be anything. It’s important to know your symbols, but if there’s one to remember – it is that this does not mean recyclable. 

The Mobius loop 

Another common misconception is that the Mobius loop means you can put the item in your recycling bin. However, that’s not always the case. While the item is capable of being recycled, it doesn’t mean your local facility can accept it or that is has ever been recycled. It is also used (sometimes with a number inside) to demonstrate how much of the product has been recycled. If you spot this symbol on your packaging – our advice is to ignore it. You’re better off checking the recycling locator to know if it’s recyclable in your area rather than risk contaminating your bin.  

Plastic resin codes 

These symbols look exactly like the Mobius loop above; however, they have a number from 1 to 6 inside. This is the plastic resin code It tells manufacturers what type of resin was used to make the product. Some will be recyclable at home, some not. Our advice, ignore this symbol altogether – it’s not going to tell you any information about how you can recycle it. Look for other symbols that give more information, like the ones we talk about next.  

Recycling symbols and what they mean 

Now we’ve established what symbols you’ll often spot and need to ignore – let’s talk about the ones that you need to pay attention to. These are the true recycling symbols and what they mean. 

Recycle me! 

The green background and single circular arrow tell you that an item is recycled in more than 75% of local authorities in the UK. Did you spot that? Not 100%, but more than 75%. Yes, even the most definitive symbols aren’t concrete. It means that you should still get some background information on what can be recycled. You’ll spot this symbol on things like paper, card and plastic trays. 

Don’t recycle me! 

It’s quite a strong message. Do not recycle. However, just like the Recycle Me label, this one has parameters set too. It actually means that less than 50% of local authorities recycle the item. Not that it cannot be recycled in the UK. This is common for plastic films and soft plastics. Again, check your recycling locator to brush up on your knowledge otherwise you could be throwing away perfectly recyclable materials.  

Recycle me! And Don’t recycle me! With conditions 

You may have already spotted a few Recycle Me labels but they have more information on them, such as ‘lid on’ or ‘rinse’. But there are also Don’t Recycle Me labels with conditions such as ‘remove sleeve’. These are all self-explanatory and are simply giving you an additional step before you recycle the item. It might be that you need to wash it, remove something, or re-attach part of it such as a lid. Don’t fret over these, they’re simply instructions which allow you to recycle the item, just make sure you do them before contaminating your bin. 

It’s easy to be greenwashed by these types of symbols. A few circular arrows and some green is all it takes for our minds to think ‘recycle’ but if we’re going to stop contaminating recycling bins we need to be savvier. Let’s stop being so generic with our thoughts. Not all plastic is recyclable. Not every symbol means it can be recycled. Our recycling bins are unique to our local area and so are the capabilities of our recycling facilities. The only way to be sure – brush up on your knowledge with your recycling locator. 

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