Recycling Symbols Explained

Reduce, reuse, recycle. It’s a tune we’re all familiar with, and a message that has been clear since the 1970’s…Or has it? Recycling can sometimes seem overwhelming, with packaging covered in seemingly endless symbols, with different meanings in different places.

As part of Autumn Clean Cymru 2020, our Living Seas Team would like to help clear things up! Below is a guide to the more commonly found recycling symbols, explaining what it is that they mean, and how to sort your waste with ease.


The Mobius Loop symbol

The Mobius Loop – a familiar symbol: three arrows arranged in a triangular shape, facing clockwise. This symbol means that an item can be recycled! It does not mean that the product itself is made from recycled materials, however sometimes a % symbol is present alongside the Mobius Loop to indicate this.

The Plastic Resin Codes 1-7 symbols

Plastic Resin Codes – again, a familiar symbol: three arrows arranged in a triangular shape, facing clockwise, but this time with a number in the middle. This symbol is only found on plastic products, and appropriate disposal depends on the number:
• 1 – 2: Generally, easily recycled.
• 3 – 4: Can usually be recycled, although it can vary depending on locality. We would recommend checking with your local council before disposing of these products.
• 5 – 7: Cannot be recycled easily yet.

Widely Recycled symbol

Widely Recycled – a green arrow rotating clockwise. In this case the product is generally recyclable, by over 75% of local authorities in the UK. Sometimes this symbol will include additional wording/instructions, for example “rinse”. These instructions should be followed, as it helps recycling centres to protect from contamination and reduce the risk of attracting unwanted guests to recycling facilities!

Check Locally symbol

Check Locally – a black/white arrow rotating clockwise. In this case the product can only be recycled by between 20% - 75% of local authorities in the UK. This means that it is worth checking that the item is collected in your area before you place the product in the recycle bin!

The Green Dot symbol

The Green Dot – a symbol composed of two interlacing arrows (usually green) in a circle. This symbol is a little bit tricky and is not quite what it seems…the Green Dot means that the manufacturer has made a financial contribution to recycling services in Europe…it does not mean that the product is recyclable.

Recyclable Aluminium symbol

Recyclable aluminium – two arrows, rotating clockwise, with “alu” in the centre. This symbol means that the product is made of recyclable aluminium. Ensure that the product has been cleaned fully, and, in most cases, you can place it in the recycling!

Recyclable Steel symbol

Recyclable steel – A magnet attracting a steel can. This symbol indicates that the product is made of steel. All local authorities will collect steel cans and recycle them!

Glass symbol

Glass - Three arrows arranged in a triangular shape, facing clockwise, with a stick person in the centre, placing a bottle in a bin. This symbol asks you to recycle the glass product. Glass can be appropriately disposed of at a bottle bank, or through kerbside collection – if your local council offers this. Glass recycling can seem a little complicated, as not all glass types can be recycled. A lot of this relates to the colour of the glass, and subsequent melting temperature. You can learn more here.

The Tidyman symbol

Tidyman – A stick person, disposing of waste in a bin. Fairly familiar to most, the Tidyman symbol originates from Keep Britain Tidy. It simply acts as a reminder to dispose of your waste appropriately. It does not necessarily mean that the product is recyclable.

Compostable symbol

Compostable – a fancy number six, with sprouting leaves. Products, including plastics, bearing this symbol are compostable. This means they should not be put in your normal recycling. Instead, place them in your food or garden waste bin.

FSC symbol © FSC

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – A tick which morphs into a deciduous tree. The FSC logo can be found on wood-based products from well managed forests – independently certified in line with the FSC’s rules. Wood and timber are generally not accepted in your household recycling, however, can be taken to local waste recycling facilities.

In short:

Ven diagram showing the various recycling symbols under the categories "Recycle me!" and "Do NOT recycle me!" © Living Seas Wales

Check locally

What does checking locally - the middle area on our ven diagram - mean? You can use the Wales Recycles website to find out more about which products can be appropriately disposed of by your local council. Simply select “recycling at home” and enter your postcode to learn more!

You should always double checking how waste disposal is managed in your local area, particularly if you have recently moved, as disposal and recycling services will vary between local councils.

Why should we recycle?

Hopefully, if you’ve made it to this point in the article, you’re already recycling at least some products from around your home! If not, you may be thinking “why should I”? It can seem like a lot of work to have to, in some cases, clean and then sort your waste products appropriately. So why bother?

Gulls feeding at Veolia Landfill Site, Essex © Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

    • Recycling makes a difference: Currently, in the UK, recycling is estimated to save between 10 – 15 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually – that’s the same as taking 3.5 million cars off the road!
    • Recycling saves natural resources: Once recycling has been collected, it will be sorted, bailed, and then transported to reprocesses to be made into brand new products! The fibres in paper, for example, could go on to be used in egg cartons, loft insulation, or even new road surfaces! And, because the product is being reused, it also stops trees and forests being chopped down to create the same product!
    • Recycling protects wildlife: By saving natural resources, fewer forests are cut down, and less wildlife is displaced. Recycling, and disposing of waste appropriately, also stops waste from entering and polluting our environment.
    • Recycling saves energy: If we take aluminium as an example, recycling can save up to 95% of the energy needed to produce the same product from the raw materials. It’s estimated that the energy saved by recycling, instead of producing, just one aluminium can, can power a TV for 3 hours!
    • Herring Gull and Plastic pollution © Jason Burk / CBMWC

      Recycling fights climate change: Who knew your yoghurt pot could be so powerful?! Because recycling uses less energy, it also produced lower carbon emissions than processing raw materials.

    • Recycling is good for the economy: In 2017, a London council stated that “it is six times cheaper to dispose of recycled waste than general waste”. Not only does recycling save money, it also creates jobs in a green economy!
    • It does get easier: Cleaning and sorting your waste will eventually become as second nature as washing your hands after you’ve used the bathroom! Particularly if you generally buy the same products, with the same packaging, week on week, you’ll soon be recycling like a pro!

Convinced? We certainly are.

🎶 In short: reduce, reuse, and recycle! 🎶