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Paper & Plastic Recycling Symbols Explained

Paper & Plastic Recycling Symbols Explained

With more and more businesses swapping to recyclable packaging, the opportunity to recycle has never been higher. Recycling logos and labels are appearing on an increasing number of products and packaging, so understanding what they mean and acting upon the advice accordingly can have a hugely positive impact on the environment as a whole. We’re here to help you demystify the world of recycling so you can make a start today.

Recycling Paper & Cardboard

Paper and cardboard are extremely popular choices for eco-conscious companies; widely recognised as easily recyclable, no questions asked. However, with the increasing eco demand, questions are beginning to be asked if these materials are biodegradable, and even compostable. Here are the logos to look out for:


Mobius Loop - The Universal Recycling Symbol

You've probably seen this one a lot - the recycling symbol with three chasing arrows. This symbol, also known as the Mobius loop, is used to signify that a product is recyclable. But what is added inside the loop tells us more about the material.




Resin Codes

Plastic can be found just about everywhere when shopping for products, from electronics to groceries. It can be a bit of a minefield knowing what to do with the different types of plastic you accumulate so before you bin, read the labels and find the logos so you can sort and separate your waste to ensure it goes to the right place.


Inside the universal recycling symbol, you'll often find a number from 1 to 7, along with the abbreviation. These numbers are resin codes, indicating the type of plastic used.


PET (Polyethelene Terephthalate) #1: You'll find this on most plastic bottles, and it's highly recyclable.


PET recycling symbol


HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) #2: Commonly used for milk jugs and detergent bottles - very recyclable.


HDPE recycling symbol



PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) #3: Often found in pipes and vinyl products. Recycling products with this symbol can be a bit tricky.


PVC symbol


LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) #4: Used in plastic bags and some containers. The recycling options for these may vary and are not always recyclable at home - a common misconception with this recycling symbol. Usually you have to take this waste to a specific recycling location.


LDPE recycling symbol


PP (Polypropylene) #5: Found in yoghurt containers, bottle caps, and more. It's usually recyclable but not always accepted.


PP symbol


PS (Polystyrene) #6: Think styrofoam. The recycling for this can be challenging.


PS symbol


Other #7: This category includes various plastics, making it less straightforward for recycling.


other symbol


The Mobius Loop with Percentage

Sometimes, this symbol is used with a percentage figure in the middle to explain that the packaging contains that amount of recycled material - it's a great way to support products that are more environmentally friendly.


Compostable Symbols

If you're into sustainable packaging, you'll want to look out for compostable symbols. They often feature a seedling or the term "compostable." These products are designed to break down into natural materials, benefiting the environment.


Industrially Compostable


Industrially Compostable

Industrially compostable packaging is perfect for areas with industrial composting facilities. These facilities maintain the optimal conditions for breaking down materials quickly and efficiently. These materials may not break down effectively in a backyard compost bin. They require the specific conditions of an industrial facility.


Make sure to look for standards such as "OK Compost Industrial." This certification ensures that a product will break down within an industrial composting environment, reducing its environmental impact. Products certified to be industrially compostable according to the European standard EN 13432/14955 may bear this ‘seedling’ logo.


Home Compostable

Home compostable materials are designed to break down in a typical backyard composting environment. These materials are usually made from organic compounds like cornstarch, potato starch, or sugarcane. In addition to the seedling symbol for industrial composting, you may see this logo which means that the material is suitable to be home composted.

Home Compostable



Green Dot

In Europe, you might spot the Green Dot symbol. Contrary to what people think, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the packaging is recyclable, will be recycled, or has been recycled. It’s a funding symbol used to show that the manufacturer has contributed to the cost of recovery and recycling.


Green Dot


The ''Tidyman'' Symbol

This guy encourages responsible disposal. It's not about recycling but serves as a reminder for us to dispose of our waste thoughtfully.


Recycling Instructions

Some items have specific recycling instructions on their labels. They tell you how to recycle that particular product correctly. These instructions are essential to ensure the item doesn't end up in the wrong recycling stream.


Recycling Plastic

There’s been a worldwide focus on plastic and the impact it has had on our oceans, but had we better understood that the majority of plastic types are actually fully recyclable, our planet wouldn’t be in the state that it currently is. 


Make your eco-friendly packaging speak to your customers

Understanding these symbols can be a game-changer in making eco-conscious choices. If you’re a business owner sending just a few, or a few thousand packages a day, it’s important to realise that these eco markers are a great way to communicate your values to your customers and help to evangelise your brand’s commitment to sustainability. We’ve put together our top tips for how you can brand your eco-friendly packaging so you can ensure your packaging ends up in the correct place.


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