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Recycling Symbols and Meaning

Recycling Symbols and Their Meaning in the UK

Today here at Tom’s Junk Collectors we decided to make a little piece about the many symbols you see on your groceries, electronics, clothes and any other products you buy. Of course, we are here to bring some light over their meaning as well. Bare in mind that we will take under accounting only the symbols that have something to do with their recycling process or with how and where you should dispose of the packaging or the product itself after it serves it purpose. That is if you don’t call us for rubbish collection and let us take care of it all… Anyway, let us begin.

Recycling symbols you see on plastic bottles

Those are maybe the most confusing symbols out there. Most of the other symbols are self-explanatory, however, they hide a bit of extra meaning behind themselves that we will reveal today. The symbols on the plastic bottles are just a number and a couple of capital letters in the bottom and you probably have no idea what they mean. We decided to start with them for one more reason, we are still overwhelmed from the last article on our blog about the products made from recycled plastic, mostly plastic bottles.

With no further a due, here comes number one, and as you can see it carries its number. That’s right Number 1 Plastic. The numbers come from Resin Identification Code (RIC) system. Implemented in 1988 when most communities started to develop recycling schemes.


PET One SymbolIt is used in the making of most plastic containers and bottles. For instance, if you have a plastic bottle with mineral water in front of you, it is most likely made out of number one plastic. A.K.A - PETE or:

P - Poly

E - Ethylene

T - Terephthalate

The formula of PET plastic

Recycle PET or PETE: It is being recycled by most of the recycling centres across the world. Products that are made out of it are plastic fiber, bags, polar fleece even furniture.


HDPE Two Symbol

Number two! The brother of LDPE plastic.

H - High

D - Density

P - Poly

E - Ethylene

It is pretty obvious now, right? Mostly used for pipes and gutters. Considered as one of the three plastics that are “safe”, meaning that they don’t leak particles in liquids. The plastic used for the making of a bit more “heavy duty” bottles. Motor oil tubs, milk jugs, juice bottles, detergent containers etc. It is a bit thicker than PET plastic and less clear.

Formula for HDPE plastic

Recycle HDPE or PEHD: It is being recycled by most recycle centres. The chance for you to hit a rock while trying to recycle this plastic is close to zero.


PVC Recycling Symbol

PVC is used in the making of food wrap, detergent bottles, plumbing, window frames and more. We are sad to say that sometimes PVC can contain phthalates which are connected to some health issues regarding reproduction and even miscarriage. On top of that often it contains DEHA which is a whole different type of thing. This chemical is used for a lot of lubricating fluids used in machine manufacturing, even jets. DEHA (C 22 H 42 O 4) on its own has been linked with even worst medical problems such as losing bone mass and liver troubles. Sad but true. However, the usage of PVC has been limited and the technology of making it is vastly improved. Just don’t burn that type of plastic and don’t bite on it, cmon you know better.

P - Poly

V - Vinyl

C - Chloride

Formula for PVC platics

Recycling PVC: No matter what, PVC is widely used and widely recycled.


Leaf Republic Products

Considered as a “safe” plastic also. Found mostly in thin plastic bottles, some food wrap, shopping bags even some bread packaging. Those soft things protecting your new electronics in their packaging are actually made with LDPE. It was first made in 1993 (ICI) with a high-pressure technology, still used today. Stands under the recycling number “4”. Yes, those are actually their recycling numbers.

L - Low

D - Density

P - Poly

E - Ethylene


Recycling LDPE or PEBD: Sadly not widely accepted, however, this problem has been addressed so there is nothing else for us to do. We can just wait and keep trying on different places until we manage to turn them LDPE products for recycling.


PP Recycling Symbol

Used for the making of a large variety of products. Ropes, carpets, some packaging, even medicine packaging. One of the safest plastics out there. That makes it that much used. Plus the fact that it is one of the most durable plastics. Pretty rugged if we may say. It can even outstand some acids and all bunch of other chemical dissolvents.

P - Poly

P - Propene

Formula for PP plastic

Recycling PP: Recycled widely. Mostly into pallets, ice-cream scrapers and a bunch of other kitchen appliances.


PS Recycling Symbol

This type of plastic is being used for disposable cups and plates, meat trays, egg cartons, compact disc cases (if you remember what that is) and other. It leaks hazardous gases when being heated.

P - Poly

S - Styrene

Formula for PS plastic

Recycling PS: Sadly this type of plastic is known for being extremely hard to recycle. Most recycling centres won’t accept that. It is usually being recycled into foam packing and isolation.


Other Plastics Recycling Symbol

That is right, number 7 on the RIC is just “other”. All of the resins that can’t be categorised under the top listed categories fall under the lucky number seven. This type of plastic is widely used. We are making large tubes for water from it, bulletproof materials, plastic wood, sunglasses even iPod cases, computer cases and so much more. The bad thing about this type of plastic is that it could contain BPA which is a chemical that can affect the hormones. It resolves in reproduction problems, hyperactivity and other.

Basic Recycling Symbols

After all the chemicals, formulas, number schemes and all other shenanigans of the plastic recycling markings, it is finally time for some basics. Let us begin with the one symbol that surely pops into your mind when you think about the simple word “Recycle”.

The Mobius Loop

Mobius Loop The Symbol of Recycling

It all started with the Mobius Strip. The Mobius strips is a stip that was twisted half way and then both ends were connected. It proposed an interesting question. However, interesting to mathematicians. Mobius himself was a German mathematician - August Ferdinand Möbius. When it comes to recycling this strip influenced the widely known symbol we know today. The connection point is that the strip implements the idea of no end. We recycle, so we are reusing our byproducts into products and again and so on… The symbol simply indicates that the package you are holding could be recycled. It does not guarantee you that that product will be accepted by your local recycling centre or upon collection. Also, it does not mean that the product is made from recycled materials.

The Dot of Recycling

Dot Of Recycling

This symbol is often being understood wrong. Most people believe that it has the same meaning as the Mobius Loop. Wrong! It simply means that the company producing the product that you are holding is investing some money in recycling procedures and is overly helping the goal with what it can. Definitely not the same, right?

Glass Recycling Symbol

Glass Recycling Symbol

As you can see the smart guy in the picture is throwing the bottle for recycling. Most of the glass products are being recycled. The important thing is to remember to separate your jars and bottles by color and give them a quick rinse. Also, remove any non-glass parts off such as bottle caps and lids.

Paper Recycle Symbol

Paper Recycling Symbol

Very similar right? Maybe the two symbols that were first acknowledged worldwide. Those were the top problems back in the day. Recycling glass and recycling paper. We think it is well known what the symbols say. Especially considering you already seen the paragraph on glass recycling. However, if you are about to recycle some cardboard juice boxes, just like your glass bottles, give them a quick rinse. It is very important, especially if it is a milk cardboard. If you don't do that later on your box might not be recyclable at all.

Symbol for Recyclable Aluminium

Symbol For Recycleble Aluminium

Simple as that. If you are holding something shiny made with the use of aluminum and it has this marking on it. Great! This means you can recycle that aluminum and be a friend of the environment, good for you!

Recyclable Steel

Recyclable Steel Symbol

This symbol on your packaging means that:

a) Your package is made out of steel

b) It is widely recycled

Please keep in mind that you have to rinse the can, or whatever packaging you are dealing with, before throwing it in the recycle container or hanging it in the depot yourself.

Waste Electricals

Electronics For Recycle

Electronic waste is definitely a worldwide problem. If you would want to know a bit more on the matter see our article on E-Waste and the infographic in it. It will give you some interesting information about the minerals that are going to waste along our old gadgets. Anyway, let us get to the meaning of this symbol. Obviously, you are not supposed to just throw this away in your rubbish bin. Products that have this mark should be taken to recycling centers. They are accepted, with a smile even. However, you may stand to win a couple of quids from those pieces of tech, so you should consider that option.

Compostable Rubbish

Compostable Rubbish Symbol 

Well, there was a European standard “EN 13432/14955” according to which products with that symbol were absolutely industrially compostable. This will most likely stick, even after Brexit and all that. The idea is actually not bad at all, maybe we should take away something good after all.



Although it got nothing to do with recycling. We thought to include this symbol also. It gives you a piece of mind if you will. What this symbol means is that the product it is on is from wood (duh). The important thing is that it is made from well selected trees. It was collected from licensed companies and from forests that were marked for lumber collection.

Some Recycle Symbols Popular in The United Kingdom

Those couple of symbols are designed especially for the UK. They are easy to read. A bit of colour scheme a bit of text and a logo, that’s it! And it is all clear to you now. You will know where you should and should you at all take that package for recycling. The guys from recyclenow.com took it even further and made a “calculator” for you to check where you should go, based on some info you provide.

Let us get to it

Box, Cardboard - It implements that the BOX of your products is made out of CARDBOARD and it is widely recycled. However, there are maybe 25% of councils that may not take that package. You should make your research for your area.

Box, Cardboard, Recycle UK

Bottle, Glass - Again, your bottle is made out of glass. And it is widely recyclable. Still, remember to check with the “calculator”

Bottle, Glass, Recycle UK

Tray - Check local recycling. Sadly a product with that symbol is most often not accepted in recycling centers.

Tray, Recycle Symbol UK

Film - Recycled in less than 20% of UK councils. Friendly advice, check anyway. It is not impossible to recycle that type of material.

Film, Plastic, Recycle Symbol UK

Accepted for Recycle on Kerbside/Curbside

Kerbside/Curbside Recycle Symbol UK

As you can see, everything you need to know is on the label. Check the kerbside collection politics of your council.

Carrier Bags Recycling

Carrier Bag, Recycle Symbol UK

The symbol implements that materials with that label should be collected in turned for recycling at local markets with carrier bags.

Empty Metal Cans

Metal Paint Cans, Recycle Symbol UK

This label is made specifically for metal cans from paint. They are often being accepted for recycling. Again, check your council…

We think we covered it all. Even with some bonuses. Of course, in near future, it is possible for people, companies and global organisations to implement even more symbols. If you believe we have skipped some, please give us a heads up. We will be more than happy to include it and make the article as full and helpful as possible!

If your head hurts from all that different symbols and explanations, or you just don’t have the time to sort all of your rubbish, give the task to us. We at Tom’s Junk Collectors not only collect your rubbish, we later sort it and recycle as much as possible!

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