Always Check the Label: Guide to Understanding Popular Recycling Symbols

Always Check the Label: Understanding Packagings Recycling Instructions

The world of recycling is something we are accustom to by now. We all know the drill; plastics, paper   and metals all in one bin, never in general waste - well this is the hope. But, have you ever considered that not all plastics are recyclable?! Frustratingly, only 9% of plastic is actually recycled, that's a massive 91% of all plastic dumped in landfill, the oceans amongst others [source: national geographic] But, if we became more savvy with both our purchases as well as recycling correctly, a huge difference can be had.

Today I want to talk more about the various recycling labels that can be found on the backs of our food items. There is a mass amount by now, with some often not as self-explanatory as others, therefore I hope to provide a handy guide for the next time you have an item to recycle

The above logo as pictured, named the 'Recycle Now' symbol is aimed to provide clear cut instructions of how exactly your item can be recycled

Taking my glass jar of mayonnaise as an example here, you can clearly see the jar itself can be recycled pretty easily, with the cap, made of aluminium, possibly being but you must check first with your local council (or simply look at the instruction on your recycling bin). As some councils are particular in the types of materials they are able to recycle. 

The 'Recycle Now' logo also has other varieties which includes the black label simply having 'Not Currently Recycled' - therefore unfortunately you must put it in the bin (or look for alternative recycling centres such as Terracycle who take items that local councils often don't!) As well as 'Recycle With Carrier Bags at Larger Stores', meaning large supermarkets will often have specialised recycling bins for items (such a food bags) with this label. 

The above glass jar has two symbols which are often confused for what they really mean. The left symbol, of a person putting something in the bin, is a reminder to dispose of the item appropriately.  With the right symbol, a circle with two arrows intertwined meaning the company have made efforts to make the packaging recyclable (but may not be taken for recycling from some authorities).  

Finally is the most popular recycling logo; the traditional green arrows that form a triangle. This indicates that it is capable of being recycled, therefore can be placed in recycling bins and should be recycled with no bother. 

There we have it, the most popular and often seen symbols on the backs of food packaging. There are many other symbols which can be found, which I am happy to do another post on if anyone were interested; including specific items for aluminium and other types of plastics. 

It's so incredibly important we recycle responsibly as the sheer amount of rubbish ending up in landfill is off the scale. A insightful programme I have watched recently was on Channel 5 called: 'The Secret World of our Rubbish', which is an easy watch but highlights the important of being responsible with the rubbish we produce. I hope this was handy little guide - happy recycling! 

Useful Resources      
[1.] National Geographic: link here
[2.] Sussex Green Living: link here 
[3.] This is Eco: link here 


  1. Hi Lisa. Thanks for that - I'm always forgetting what the various symbols mean. I'm sure that recycling rates would be much higher if firms all came together with a single set of easily understandable symbols, perhaps accompanied by some government promotion on TV and online.
    (Also, on a related topic, do you know why not all councils accept shredded paper for recycling? Seems strange to me.)

    1. I completely agree, clearer labelling 100% needs to be had - I feel the 'Recycle Now' logos are a step in the right direction but a blanket clear system for all meanings, definitely needs to be had.

      For shredded paper - Often it can be because of the specific council not having the correct machinery to recycle that material - shredded paper is very fine and therefore can get caught in machines, a bit like cling film being extremely fine plastic - this may be the case I would think! :)