This article explains about various recycling symbols and their meaning.
Do you get confused with recycling symbols? I do, sometimes. As the recycling and environmental trend continue to grow, so do the proliferation of different recycling symbols in the products and packaging that we use everyday.
Not all recycling symbols are designed for the consumers’ benefit. Some of these are meant to assist the recyclers (the technicians who sort out the collected materials in a recycling facility) while others represent an organization that the manufacturer of the product or packaging belongs to.
Recycling symbols come in several categories:
- Symbols encouraging people to recycle;
- Recycling symbols indicating that a percentage of the materials used in a particular product or packaging is recycled;
- Recycling symbols indicating the type of material used;
- Industry or organization related recycling symbols.
For manufacturers, the use of most of these symbols and the term “recyclable” or “recycled” are governed by government agencies and regulations to protect consumers against fraudulent claims of companies trying to catch in on the recycling and environmental awareness of people. In the US, this usage is governed by the Federal Trade Commission’s Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims.
Common Recycling Symbols
The Mobius Loop
This is perhaps the most ubiquitous of the recycling symbols. This recycle sign has no specific meaning but is understood to represent the specific steps in recycling (collection and sorting, remanufacturing, and purchase of recycled products) and is widely accepted internationally. It has no copyright restrictions, and anyone can use the Mobius Loop recycle logo. Many organizations, in fact, use this symbol in their posters, advertisement, and websites to encourage recycling.
However, if your organization is using this recycle sign to make a claim that your product is “recylable,” “can be recycled,” or “made with recycled materials” then the use of the symbol falls under the specific regulations pertaining to it, as we noted above.
The Recycle Now symbol consists of curved arrow with a heart in the end. This recycle logo, according to Basingstoke and Deane, is designed to become the universally recognized recycle symbol and to encourage people to take action. The heart is supposed to signify the “the feel-good nature of the recycling activity.
The Green Dot (Der Grune Punkt)
This is primarily a European (German) recycle symbol. It means that the manufacturer of the packaging has paid an amount as contribution or license fee to a national recycling effort geared towards full recovery of packaging material and promotion of easy-to-recycle components in packaging.
Recycling Symbols – Plastic
The recycling symbols used in what is known as the Plastic Coding Sytem include a thinner and simplified version of the Mobius Loop with a number in the center and an acronym (below the loop) denoting the kind of the plastic resin used. These recycling symbols are designed to assist recyclers with the task sorting the collected material. In recent years, these plastic recycling symbols are also commonly used as indicator by some people to determine the presence of what is perceived to be health-threatening chemicals.
PET or PETE (Polyethylene Terephalate Ethylene)
PET (also known as polyester, represented by the plastic recycle symbol number 1) is the most popular material used in disposable bottled beverages, food, and non-food packaging. Lightweight, inexpensive, easy to recycle, PET poses low risk of “leaching” breakdown products but experts caution against any repeated usage. PET is in very high demand among remanufacturers but the recycling rate for this material has remained low at around 20%.
Found In: Soft drink, water, juice, and beer bottles; mouthwash bottles; peanut butter containers; salad dressing and vegetable oil containers; ovenable food trays.
Recycled Into: Automotive parts, such as luggage racks, headliners, fuse boxes, bumpers, grilles and door panels; Polar fleece, fiber, tote bags, furniture, carpet, paneling, straps, (occasionally) PET, new containers
HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)
HDPE (recycle symbol no.2) is commonly used for packaging products with short-shelf life and common household chemicals and is believed to pose a low risk of contaminating contents with breakdown products. Versatile in its uses, HDPE are produced in either pigmented or unpigmented resin, with the pigmented variety found to be more resistant to chemicals and breakage.
Found In: Milk jugs, juice bottles; bleach, detergent and household cleaner bottles; shampoo bottles; some trash and shopping bags; motor oil bottles; butter and yogurt containers; cereal box liners, bleach bottles.
Recycled Into: Laundry detergent bottles, oil bottles, pens, recycling containers, floor tile, drainage pipe, benches, doghouses, picnic tables, fencing, mailbox posts, chairs, toys.
PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
PVC (recycle symbol no.3) is a tough, flexible, and chemical-resistant plastic commonly used for piping and and injection-molding. Rarely recycled, this plastic is considered to be dangerous in relation to food preparation and should not be allowed to come into contact with food when cooking. It contains chlorine and will release toxins to the environment if burned.
Found In: Window cleaner and detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, cooking oil bottles, clear food packaging, wire jacketing, medical equipment, siding, windows, piping. Also used for peanut butter jars and water jugs, wire and cable jacketing.
Recycled Into: Decking, panels, binders, mudflaps, roadway gutters, flooring, cables, speed bumps, mats
LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene )
LDPE (recycle symbol no.4) is a tough and flexible plastic that has many uses, including heat-sealing nd insulation applications. LDPE is not normally recycled through community recycling programs, but in the past years, the number of local recycle programs that accept LDPE has increased.
Found In: Plastic bags and grocery sacks, dry cleaning bags and flexible film packaging, Squeezable bottles; bread, frozen food, dry cleaning and shopping bags; tote bags; clothing; furniture; carpet
Recycled Into: Film and sheet, trash can liners and cans, compost bins, shipping envelopes, paneling, lumber, landscaping tiles, floor tile.
PP (recycle logo no.5) is chemical-resistant, has a high melting point, and has the lowest density of all resins used in packaging. It is widely used in containers designed for hot liquids.
Found in: Yogurt containers, syrup bottles, ketchup bottles, caps, straws, medicine bottles, straws and film packaging.
Recycled into: Signal lights, battery cables, brooms, brushes, auto battery cases, ice scrapers, landscape borders, bicycle racks, rakes, bins, pallets, and trays
PS (recycle symbol no.6) is characterized by its low melting point and is a good material for insulation. It can be manufactured into rigid foam products like the trademark Styrofoam. This material has long been on the watch list of environmentalists because of its widespread use and difficulty in recycling. Current evidence suggest that Polystyrene can leach toxins into food.
Found in: Disposable plates and cups, meat trays, egg cartons, carry-out containers, aspirin bottles, compact disc cases
Recycled into: Insulation, light switch plates, egg cartons, egg trays, fast food packaging, vents, rulers, foam packing, carry-out containers
The category “Other” (recycle symbol no. 7) includes material not categorized under any of the resin classifications above or combinations of any of those.
Found in: Three and five gallon water bottles, certain food product bottles, , ‘bullet-proof’ materials, sunglasses, DVDs, iPod and computer cases, signs and displays, certain food containers, nylon, outdoor and camping bottles, gym bottles, baby bottles.
Recycled into: Plastic lumber, custom-made products
In recent years, Plastics Symbol no. 7 became the focus of growing concern worldwide as it was found out that many no.7 plastics are made with Polycarbonate plastic which, under scientific experiments, were discovered to leach Bisphenol A. This is a type of chemical known to be a hormonal disruptor causing miscarriages and birth defects, according to a study conducted by Case Western Reserve scientists. “Synthetic xenoestrogens,” one of which is Bisphenol A or BPA “are linked to breast cancer and uterine cancer in women, decreased testosterone levels in men, and are particularly devastating to babies and young children. BPA has even been linked to insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes.”
Compostable Recycle Symbol
This is one of the newer recycling symbols and is used to signify that the packaging is suitable for composting at home. This type of recycle sign is found mostly in packaging for organic fruits and vegetables.
Glass Recycling Symbols
“Please put this in a bottle bank”. This recycle sign serves to remind consumers to recycle glass bottles and jars either in a bottle bank, where available or in a kerbside collection.
Cardboard and Paper Recycling Symbols
Mobius Loop with X% in the center – this recycle sign indicates that a percentage (x) of the packaging or product is made from recycled material. This recycle symbol can be seen mostly in cardboard packaging.
This recycle logo is an example of industry or organization-related recycling symbols. It is a proprietary symbol belonging to the 100% Recycled Paperboard Alliance, an organization of packaging companies promoting the use of 100% recycled paperboard among its members. This is an exclusive recycle symbol and only Alliance’s members may use it.
Metal Recycling Symbols
ALU – this recycle sign indicates that the packaging or the material is made of aluminum and therefore recyclable.
Recyclable Steel – this recycle logo mean the packaging or material is made from recyclable steel.
This is our initial compilation of recycling symbols currently in use. We shall continue to update this page to add more specific recycling symbols or new ones being adopted by industries and organizations, in the future. If you would like to share other recycling symbols or know if any logo that you feel should be included in a comprehensive list of recycling symbols, as we envision this one to be, please feel free to leave a comment, and we will take a look.
- EarthOdyssey.com “Recycling Symbols (US)”
- Mercola.com – “Do You Know What Plastic Recycling Symbols Mean?”
- Basingstoke and Deane – “Recycling Symbols”
- WasteOnline.Org.UK - “Packaging recycling information sheet”
- OurStolenFuture.org - “On Compounds: Bisphenol A”
- The Washington Post - “Studies on Chemical In Plastics Questioned”
- Trusted MD - “Which Plastic Water Bottles Don’t Leach Chemicals”
- The Daily Green - “What Do Recycling Symbols on Plastic Mean”
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