a variety of green and white plastic items

Types of plastic packaging and recycling symbols

Do you ever find yourself confused by all the different types of plastics? Do you wonder which you can recycle and which you can’t? Are there too may recycling symbols that simply, confuse you? In the next five years, we’re expecting mixed plastic packaging recycling to be widely available in the UK. In the meantime we’ll all need to do our bit, by sorting our plastics for recycling. To help you make sense of it all, here’s our run down on the different plastics based on their recycling codes and the different symbols but more importantly, what they mean for you: 

Recycling Symbols

This symbol means that an item can be recycled as it is without having to change anything about its structure. It also means that it can be collected by over 75% of local authorities at kerbside.

This symbol means you need to wash the item before you pop it in your recycling bin. You’ll usually find this on a sauce jar or similar.

This symbols means that the lid of the item is too small for recycling. Therefore, after you rinse it, you pop the lid back on so it can be recycled together.

This symbols means that there is an action for you to take before recycling. You may need to remove a film or sleeve, it should be easy to do and there should be instructions on the packaging to tell you how. Then you’ll replace the lid and recycle the entire item together.

It may shock you to learn, but this symbol does not mean the item can be recycled. It simply means that the manufacturer has made a financial contribution towards recover and recycling items in Europe. Be careful not to misinterpret this one!

Again, this symbol can easily be misconstrued. It simply means that the item has the capability to be recycled, not that is has been recycled before or that your local authority can even recycle it. Sometimes you’ll spot a figure on in the middle, this shows how much of the product contains recyclable material.

Number 1 Plastic packaging

PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) 
Used for: Fizzy drink and water bottles; cooking oil bottles; fruit containers; food trays for ready meals; textile fibres (polyester).

Recycling info: 92% of council recycling programmes in the UK collect PET bottles. PET forms such as food trays and berry containers can be recycled, but not all councils can accept them due to sorting issues.

Number 2 Plastic packaging

 HDPE (high density polyethylene) 
Used for: Milk bottles; shampoo bottles; margarine and yogurt tubs; household cleaning bottles; some rubbish and shopping bags; car oil bottles; cereal box liners.

Recycling info: 92% of council recycling programmes in the UK collect HDPE bottles. Other forms of HDPE such as tubs can be recycled, but aren’t necessarily included in bottle collections by all councils due to sorting issues.  

Number 3 Plastic packaging

V (Vinyl) or PVC 
Used for: Window frames; drainage pipes; shower curtains; clothing; toys; large squash, cooking oil, window cleaner, wire insulation, medical equipment.

Recycling info: Rarely recycled, though accepted by some plastic lumber makers. PVC use in packaging is on the wane due to this.

Number 4 Plastic packaging

LDPE (low density polyethylene) 
Used for: Carrier bags; squeezy bottles; can link plastic packaging; bread and frozen food packaging; lining or laminating cardboard containers such as TetraPaks; clothing; furniture; carpet.

Recycling info: Many supermarkets now accept plastic bags for recycling. Other LDPE is not often recycled through council recycling programmes, although some recycling centres will accept it where they have begun mixed plastics recycling.

Number 5 Plastic packaging

PP (polypropylene) 
Used for: Waterproof clothing; carrier bags; some yogurt pots; sauce bottles; drinking straws; medicine bottles.

Recycling info: PP is not generally not available to recycle through council recycling programmes, although some recycling centres will accept it where they have begun mixed plastics recycling.

Number 6 Plastics

PS (polystyrene) 
Used for: Takeaway boxes and cups; packaging; meat and vegetable trays; egg cartons; CD cases.

Recycling info: Number 6 plastics are not generally available to recycle through council recycling programmes at present, except in places where mixed plastics recycling has started.

Number 7 Plastics 

O (other)
Used for: Large water carriers; sunglasses; computer casings; ‘bullet-proof’ materials; nylon; signs and displays; some food containers.

Recycling info: Plastics that don’t fit into the previous categories are all lumped into code 7 together. Some of these are even compostable (polyactide) – in which case it will be clearly marked.

What plastics do you recycle? Post your thoughts below, or share with us on Twitter and Facebook!

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