It seems like a day doesn’t go by where a video of a beach filled with plastic bottles or an ocean animal injured by a plastic product doesn’t fill our feeds, emails and general lives. Thanks to documentaries like Blue Planet II and
I always used to think all plastic could be recycled, but it soon dawned on me that that’s not the case and that just because a recycling symbol, or something looking similar to a recycling symbol, is on the product, it doesn’t mean it can be recycled in the same way. I needed to educate myself on these symbols and I now truly believe that we can only start making a difference to the plastic problem facing us, once we understand what, and how exactly recycling works.
General Recycling Symbols vs Plastic Recycling Symbols
To be honest, I never knew there was a difference between general recycling symbols and plastic recycling symbols, but I now know there is. The difficulty is that the general recycling symbols differ from country to country, but at the same time you cannot start on your recycling process before you understand these symbols, so for the purpose of this blog post, that is where we will start…
General Recycling Symbols
The Green Dot: This one is a bit misleading as it doesn’t mean the product can be recycled or has been recycled at all. Rather it means that the producer of the product has made a financial contribution toward recycling or reclaiming products in the EU (not very helpful to us).
Mobius Loop: This is the general symbol most of us associate with recycling. It means that the product is capable of being recycled, but not that it is recycled or that it will
Plastic Resin Code: Similar to the Mobius Loop, but with a number in the middle. This one indicates the type of plastic the product is made of. Read on below for more on this.
Tidyman: The Tidyman really has nothing to do with recycling, but is a friendly reminder to throw away your trash and be a good citizen keeping your space clean.
Glass: This one asks you to remember to recycle the glass bottle. Not that it has been recycled before.
Recyclable Aluminium: This symbol shows that a product is made from recycled aluminium.
Recyclable Steel: This indicates that the product is made from steel and thus you can recycle it with your local recycling.
Waste Electricals: Electricalproducts with this symbol should not be placed in the general waste, but should be recycled through electronic recycling schemes (these can be found at some local supermarkets in both the UK and South Africa).
Compostable: This symbol is on products that can be composted according to the European standard EN 13432/14955. These plastics should not be placed in the general recycling.
FSC Logo: This logo is placed on products that have been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as sustainably sources forest products (paper and wood products). I wrote a blog post about why this is such an important
Recycling Symbols In the UK
Even though these symbols are specific to the UK and UK municipalities, they are a great way to understand generally what can and can’t be
Widely Recycled: This is applied to products like plastic bottles that can be recycled by 75% or more of the local municipalities in the UK
Widely Recycled–Rinse: This is applied to food packaging that can be recycled, but need to be rinsed before recycling, like food trays.
Widely Recycled–Rinse. Lid On: This can be found on products like glass bottles. These should be rinsed, and the lids should be kept on the bottles. The reason is
Widely Recycled–Flatten. Cap On: Similar to above this is will be on
Bottle – Widely Recycled, Sleeve – Not Yet Recycled: This is where it starts becoming more difficult and where we need to start being more conscious about what we buy and throw in the recycling. In this case, the glass or plastic bottle can be recycled, but the sleeve with the brand’s name on it is not recyclable. Best practice is to remove any plastic sleeve from the bottles you throw in the recycling. If the sleeve is paper, you can take it off and throw it in the recycling separately, which makes the recycling process much easier.
Widely Recycled at Recycling Centres: These are metal paint cans and cannot be recycled in
Widely Recycled at Recycling Points: Check Locally for Kerbside: These are products like Tetrapack food and drink cartons. They can be recycled in most local recycling, but are also collected at designated collection points across the UK.
Recycle with Bags at Larger Stores: Check Locally for Kerbside: These are products like breakfast cereal bags, toilet and kitchen roll wraps, bread bags, grocery produce, multipack shrink wrap, and newspaper and magazine wraps. They can be recycled at your local supermarket’s carrier bag collection point. Best to ask once you’re there.
Check Local Recycling: This is a more tricky one and consists of products that are recycled by 20 -75% of local municipalities in the UK, including some plastic. Generally, if it has this sign on it and you can’t find whether your council can recycle it, add it to the recycling and it will either go through or be thrown out during the recycling process.
Not Yet Recycled:
Plastic Recycling Symbols
Unlike the general recycling symbols, which really aren’t that general across the globe, the symbols on plastic products are much more reliable and
The book No. More.Plastic. by
Plastic is divided into 7 different categories, each with its own uses and characteristics. The symbol you’re looking for on plastic is called the Plastic resin Code (see above). Once again the three chasing arrow symbol can be deceiving as not all plastic can be recycled and some cannot even be reused. The numbers inside the chasing arrows are the real thing we need to look out for as this is the indicator of whether plastic can be recycled or not. Here’s what you need to know.
#1 PET/PETE: Polyethylene Terephthalate
This is your plastic water and soft drink bottles, fruit juice containers, cooking oil bottles and food trays.
These can be RECYCLED – Should be recycled but not reused.
This plastic is recycled into small
#2 HDPE: High-Density Polyethylene
These are shopping bags, yogurt containers, milk bottles, shampoo and body wash containers, detergent bottles and toys. The plastic is hard and durable and floats in water.
These can be RECYCLED – It’s considered the safest form of plastic and is the most commonly recycled, as well as the easiest to recycle.
This plastic is recycled to make durable items like park benches, waste bins, picnic tables and more.
#3 PVC: Polyvinyl Chloride
These are clear food packaging, pipes and hoses, teething rings, children’s and dog’s toys, window frames and other garden ornaments. Any soft flexible plastic.
These can SOMETIMES BE RECYCLED – Considered toxic and has been dubbed the “poison plastic”. Not safe for food use. Should not be reused and difficult to recycle (only about 1% gets recycled).
#4 LDPE: Low-Density Polyethylene
Used for rubbish bags, squeezable bottles, cling film/wrap and bread bags. Also found in some clothing and furniture. Most commonly found in most plastic shopping bags bought in stores today.
These can be RECYCLED – But unfortunately are not recycled that much. This is changing as people become more aware of the plastic problem and more drop-off points for these plastics become available (ask at your local supermarket whether they recycle these plastic bags for you). Also, less toxic and safe for use.
These plastics are REUSABLE.
Products made from recycled LDPE are plastic lumber, floor tiles and garbage can liners. Not as strong and durable as HDPE plastic.
#5 PP: Polypropylene
Products made from PP are plastic straws, bottle caps, food tubs, disposable diapers, potato chip bags, and plastic tape. Polypropylene is also used to seal products against moisture, for example, the sealant on your cereal box.
These can be RECYCLED – Not as common to recycle
The recycled Polypropylene is used to make battery casings, brooms, bins
#6 PS& PS-E: Polystyrene
This is your plastic cutlery, CD cases, cups and plates, foam packaging in boxes, takeaway boxes and anything made from Styrofoam (cups, pool noodles etc). It’s inexpensive and lightweight and breaks up into millions of little pieces. It also contains styrene which contains carcinogen (and causes cancer). The chemicals in polystyrene have been linked to numerous illnesses and digestive problems.
These are DIFFICULT TO RECYCLE AND NOT OFTEN DONE – Because it breaks into so many small pieces it’s almost impossible to recycled and should really be AVOIDED COMPLETELY.
#7 PC, OTHER: BPA, Polycarbonate and LEXAN
This category refers to all other plastics that are NOT RECYCABLE and should NOT BE REUSED.
This is plastic used in computers and electronics, baby bottles, sippy cups, water cooler bottles, and car parts. Most importantly (and the worst of it all) this type of plastic
Newly developed bio
There is a lot to consider and remember, but to sum it up, never used or buy plastics with a number 7 or 6 and where possible always opt for plastics with the number 2 on it as it’s the most durable and easiest to recycle.
Understanding how plastic works is the first step in living more sustainably with plastic. We might never get rid of plastic completely, but if you know what can and can’t be recycled, and what plastic is safe and what is definitely not safe to use, then we are one step closer to creating a cleaner planet for ourselves, the animals and the oceans.