Packaging Symbols Explained

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People are busy and shopping is necessary. Fact. That’s why packaging labels show symbols and other short-hand so we can absorb important information at a glance. Problems arise when these symbols aren’t as straightforward as we’d like, especially when they appear to have an environmental claim. Here are the common recycling and non-recycling packaging symbols and what they really mean.

Recycling Symbols

Universal Recycling Symbol / Mobius Loop

The Universal Recycling Symbol, also known as a Mobius Loop is the international symbol for recycling. It is meant to indicate that an item can be recycled, although it doesn’t say to what extent, how easily, or how widely it can be processed.

Plastic Resin Indication Code

These can look very similar to the Mobius Loop with a number between 1-7 in the middle. This simply shows what type of plastic has been used. Some categories like 1 and 2 are widely recycled whereas categories like 6 and 7 are rarely recycled and can also leach harmful chemicals.

Learn more about plastic recycling

Widely Recycled

The Widely Recycled symbol refers to materials that can be processed by at least 75% of recycling facilities nationwide.

These are most commonly found on glass jars, cardboard, and widely recyclable plastics such as food trays and drink bottles.

Check Locally

The Check Locally symbol refers to materials that can be processed by 20%-75% of recycling facilities nationwide.

These are typically on certain types of plastic that are recycled in some areas and not others.

Check what can be recycled locally to you at Recycle Now website.

Not Yet Recycled

The Not Yet Recycled or Not Recycled symbol refers to materials that can’t be processed at any more than 20% of recycling facilities nationwide.

These are commonly found on non-recyclable plastics like clear food bags and the plastic film on some food containers.

Recyclable Aluminium

The ‘alu’ symbol shows the item is made from aluminium, a material that is widely recycled.

Aluminium drink cans and foil trays can be recycled easily as long as it is collected effectively. Make sure to rinse or wipe off any residue then scrunch or crush foil items into piles or balls. The bigger and denser these balls are the easier it is to collect and recycle.

Recyclable Steel

This indicates the item is made from steel that can be widely recycled.

Many local authorities collect steel cans for recycling. Other steel or metal items can be taken to your local household waste recycling centre.

Recyclable Glass

This symbol encourages you to recycle glass containers. You can put them your household recycling if this option is available to you or they can be taken to a local bottle bank.

Non-recycling Symbols

Green Dot

The Green Dot does NOT indicate that something can be recycled. It simply shows that the company who made it has made a financial contribution towards the Green Dot scheme, which supports the recovery and recycling of packaging.


The Tidyman symbol by Keep Britain Tidy encourages you to dispose of your waste considerately. It is not related to recycling but more of a reminder not to litter.

Waste Electricals

The crossed-out wheelie bin indicates that you shouldn’t dispose of the item with your general waste. These are often found on electrical items like batteries, chargeable devices and household appliances.

Most electronic items can be accepted at your local household waste recycling centre.

Seedling Logo

The Seedling Logo indicates the packaging is made from organic compostable material, which will break down naturally. These are most likely seen on liners for food waste bins.

Never put compostable materials in with recyclable materials. This can spoil the recyclable materials and make them difficult or impossible to recycle.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)

The FSC logo indicates a wood-based product has been made using forests independently certified in accordance with the rules of the FSC. Because it only refers to the source of the material, it doesn’t say whether it can be recycled.

Once you have got to grips with most of these symbols, you might find that packaging you thought was recyclable is in fact not. That is going to be frustrating, so what do you do?

Next time you pick up an item from the shelves, ask yourself “What’s going to happen to this after I’ve finished with it?” If it can be recycled, that’s good. If it’s going to end up in a landfill, an incinerator (or even worse) consider what alternatives are available.

Remember that you as a consumer have a massive impact on what manufacturers produce and how they do it. Making informed decisions on where your money goes takes a second or two, and sends a clear message to companies about what products and practices you support.