Packaging Waste

The essential guide to recycling symbols on packaging

3 mins

We produce large volumes of recyclable waste on a daily basis. In the UK alone, around 12 million tonnes of recycling waste is produced each year.

However, often recyclable waste finds its way into general waste collections which results in the waste being disposed of incorrectly. A recent report by National Geographic even found that 91% of plastic waste is not sent to a recycling facility!

With most businesses striving to become more environmentally friendly and sustainable – especially due to changing consumer demands – it’s more important than ever to recognise all the recycling logos and what they mean so you can ensure your packaging is disposed of in the correct place.

There is a surprisingly large number of different recycling symbols, and so it can be easy to mix them up or not know all their meanings. That is where this handy essential guide comes in! In this guide, we will explore all the recycling symbols and what they mean so you can quickly identify them on your packaging materials.

On-pack recycling symbols

On-pack recycling labels are designed to help consumers to recycle or reuse packaging correctly. They are visually clear and simple and show if the packaging can be recycled, collected from household recycling bins, or whether they have to be taken to the local recycling centre.

You will likely recognise these common recycling labels as they appear on many types of packaging, including crisp packets, bread bags, and plastic bottles.

Recycle packaging symbol

This label is applied to packaging that is collected by 75% or more of UK local authorities and then sorted, processed, and recycled into new packaging or products.

Don't Recycle packaging symbol

The "Don't Recycle" label will be seen on packaging that is collected by less than 50% of UK local authorities. It means that the items are unable to be sorted and recycled into new packaging or products.

Recycle Rinse packaging symbol

If recyclable packaging that contained food is not rinsed, the residue could contaminate the other materials when collected together, particularly with paper. Symbols like this may be seen on yoghurt pots and soup tins. Failure to rinse products before recycling them could mean that your waste is classified as contaminated, which means it may be impossible to recycle.

Recycle Lid On packaging symbol

Some parts of your packaging will be too small to recycle on their own. For example, any caps or lids that fall under 40mm in diameter will not be able to be sorted correctly at recycling plants due to their size. In the UK alone, around 38 million plastic bottles are used every 24 hours and the majority of them are not properly recycled.

If your product displays this label, ensure that the cap or lid is put back on the bottle so that it can all be collected and recycled.


Recycle with bags at large supermarkets symbol

This label will be seen on plastic wrapping such as bread bags, fruit and vegetable bags, crisp packets, and chocolate wrappers. It means that this type of packaging can be recycled at recycling points in selected supermarkets.

Recycle – Bottle Cap On packaging symbol

Plastic packaging makes up for 70% of UK packaging waste and product packaging such as sleeves can be difficult to recycle, leading to this type of packaging waste being a key contributor to crowded landfills.

Don’t Recycle Remove Sleeve packaging symbol

This label will be seen on packaging when a sleeve or film needs to be removed from the bottle and thrown away so that the bottle can be recycled correctly.

Widely Recycled – Flatten, Cap on

Flattening items such as plastic bottles and milk cartons makes transit more efficient as you will be shipping less air, reducing costs, and reducing your environmental impact. By keeping the cap on your bottles when recycling reduces the chance of the lid getting lost during the recycling process.

Taking the correct steps to recycle this kind of product can reduce the damage that single-use plastics have on the environment. Despite millions of single-use products being used daily, sadly less than 10% is recycled. In fact, Britain fails to recycle 40% of plastic bottles because they are not placed in the right bins.

Widely Recycled- Check locally for kerbside

While some packaging, such as tetra packs, are recycled by a number of local authorities, they are not recycled by all. Seeing this symbol on packaging means that you should check first where it can be recycled. They can be taken to household recycling centres.

Check locally packaging symbol

This recycling symbol will be seen on packaging that is collected by between 20% - 75% of local authorities. For example, it’s often seen on different types of plastic.

Not yet recycled packaging symbol

This symbol indicates that less than 20% of local authorities will collect the packaging for recycling. It is usually found on ready meal packets where the film is not recyclable and needs to be removed and put into the general waste.

Popular recycling packaging symbols

Now that you know the recycle symbols and what they mean, it’s time to look at the other popular recycling logos that can be seen on packaging, and what their definitions are.

Mobius Loop packaging symbol

The Mobius Loop symbol means that the packaging is capable of being recycled but my not have been made from recycled materials. If the packaging does contain recycled material, the symbol will show a percentage (%) within the logo. This will roughly indicate the amount of recycled materials used to make the item.

The Mobius Loop logo does not ensure that the packaging can be collected from household bins or recycling centres, so it’s important to check with your local council first.

This symbol can be seen on plastic waste such as bottle and containers, paper waste like magazines, and glass waste.

The Green Dot recycling packaging symbol

The Green Dot symbol signifies that the packaging producer has made a financial contribution towards the recycling of packaging. It’s important to note that this symbol does not necessarily mean that the packaging is recyclable. This Green Dot can be spotted on a variety of different products including food and drink packaging.

Tidyman symbol

The Tidyman is not actually a recycling symbol, but rather is trademarked by charity Keep Britain Tidy and is used on packaging as a reminder to consumers to not litter and be considerate with how they dispose of the packaging. Some brands may feature the Tidyman symbol on their packaging for a small fee which contributes to the wider work of the charity, including eliminating litter and waste, improving public spaces, and helping people live more sustainably.

FSC packaging symbol

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) symbol identifies packaging/products that contain wood from well-managed forests. These forests have been independently certified in accordance with the rules of the FSC. This logo is typically seen on products made from paper, cardboard, and wood.

Glass Recycling packaging symbol

The Glass Recycling symbol is used on packaging to remind customers that the glass can be recycled after use. Often seen on glass containers such as glass bottles and jars, this logo means that it is recyclable, even if the materials contained within it are not. The product showing this symbol can be collected with your household recycling and at bottle banks.

Aluminium symbol

The Aluminium ‘alu’ symbol is used to inform the user that the product is made from recyclable aluminium and so can be placed into an aluminium or mixed metal recycling container. Most local recycling facilities will accept aluminium. This logo can feature on tinfoil packaging. 

Waste Electricals and Batteries packaging symbol

The crossed-out bin symbol on your electrical product such as those that fall under WEEE Waste, batteries, or their packaging. It means that the electrical products and batteries must be recycled through either a recycling centre or with retailers.

Some local authorities may offer the recycling of small electrical items and batteries through household collections.

Biodegradable packaging symbol

The biodegradable symbol placed on packaging shows that the packaging materials used can biodegrade in selected waste. The main difference between biodegradable and compostable products is that biodegradable products could be referring to any material that breaks down and degrades in the environment, whereas compostable products are only organic elements that degrade in the environment. To find out more about the differences, visit our Biodegradable vs Compostable article.

Compostable symbol

Products certified to be industrially compostable will feature this seedling logo, it is often seen on food waste, garden waste, and certain types of packaging. This symbol means that the products or packaging can be composted. Some variations of this logo will inform you on whether or not the item can be composted at home or at a specialist facility.


Ok compost and Ok compost (home) symbols

When the ‘Ok compost’ symbol is placed on packaging, it certifies that it is compostable in an industrial composting unit (including inks, additives etc).

However, if you see the ‘Ok compost’ symbol with the addition of ‘Home’ within the logo then that means that the products are suitable for home composting.

Corrugated Recycles packaging symbol

Developed by the International Corrugated Case Association, this symbol shows that corrugated cardboard packaging can be recycled. Unlike the Green Dot logo, this symbol can be used freely (providing there are no national or local laws prohibiting its use).

It’s important to note that seeing this symbol on a corrugated container does not mean that the packaging is manufactured from recycled material, it just means that the pack could be recycled.

NAPM Recycled packaging symbol

This logo is now defunct, but it was the National Association of Paper Merchants symbol indicating that paper and board should be manufactured from a minimum of 75% genuine wastepaper and/or board fibre.

RESY packaging symbol

The RESY (GmbH) licensed symbol is used for consolidation of transit packaging manufactured from corrugated cardboard only. This logo requires permission to use and guarantees that the packaging is recyclable.

Steel symbol

This symbol indicates that the packaging is manufactured from steel and can be recycled by your local authority.

What do plastic resin symbols mean?

We will end this essential guide by identifying what each plastic resin code means when it is seen on packaging products. These codes are represented with a chasing arrows symbol surrounding a number between 1 and 7 that defines the resin that is used.

  • 1 PET – stands for Polyethylene Terephthalate and is one of the most common plastics used for packaging. This symbol can be seen on bottles and some food packaging, it is recyclable.
  • 2 HDPE – stands for High-Density Polyethylene and is one of the more common plastics, often used for milk bottles as well as toys, kitchenware, and cable insulation. It is usually recyclable.
  • 3 PVC – stands for Polyvinyl Chloride and is used for the manufacturing of window frames and doors, as well as for wire insulation, flooring, and footwear. PVC is not recyclable.
  • 4 LDPE – Low Density Polyethylene that is used in toys and commonly used for squeezy bottles and packaging films. While they are reusable, they are not usually recyclable.
  • 5 PP – Polypropylene is often used for products that are injection moulded and blow moulded, but is also used for bottle tops, food containers and packaging tape. Polypropylene can usually be recycled.
  • 6 PS – stands for polystyrene and is used for protective packaging inserts, as well as CD cases, takeaway food trays and insulation products. Polystyrene is not recyclable.
  • 7 Other – stands for other kinds of plastic not defined by previous groups above, this can include BPA, polycarbonate, Lexan. It is generally not recyclable.

The Essential Guide to Recycling Symbols from Swiftpak

As you have seen there are many recycling symbols with different meanings, but we hope this guide will help you to select the right one to use on your packaging materials.

If you have any questions or would like to know more about recycling, please contact our packaging experts today.