Recycling Symbols and Their Meanings: Your Basic Guide

When it comes to recycling, knowing what items to recycle and how to recycle them can be confusing. Understanding what different recycling symbols mean makes it easier for you to properly dispose of different materials. We’re breaking down the most commonly used recycling symbols to make your recycling experience easier.

Read More: 5 Sustainability Trends for 2023.

Avoid the Confusion: Clarifying Recycling Symbols

The recycling symbol can be misleading in a few different ways. Let’s get these misconceptions out of the way first:

  • Not all materials with the recycling symbol are actually recyclable. Just because an item has the recycling symbol does not necessarily mean that it can be recycled in your area. Make sure to check with your local recycling facility to find out what materials they accept.
  • The recycling symbol doesn’t represent the entire recyclability of an item. A product may be made of multiple materials, only some of which are recyclable. Take a plastic water bottle: if it has a metal cap, the cap may not be recyclable.
  • The recycling symbol doesn’t indicate a product’s environmental impact. Just because an item is recyclable doesn’t automatically make it environmentally friendly or sustainable. For example, certain products made from recycled materials may still have a large environmental impact due to the energy required to recycle them.

Keep these considerations in mind when reviewing recycling symbols on items you’re disposing, and when in doubt, do your own research to make informed environmental decisions.

The Most Common Recycling Symbols

Here are some common recycling symbols and what they mean:

1. The “Chasing Arrows” Symbol

The most well-known recycling symbol, it indicates that a material is generally recyclable. The number inside the arrows refers to the specific type of plastic the item is made of, with 1 being the most common and 7 being the least common.

The numbers inside the recycling symbol refer to the specific type of plastic the item is made of, with each number representing a different type of plastic. These include:

  1. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE)
  2. High-density polyethylene (HDPE)
  3. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  4. Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)
  5. Polypropylene (PP)
  6. Polystyrene (PS)
  7. Other (includes all other types of plastic that don’t fit into the first six categories)

Keep in mind that these numbers aren’t standardized and vary by country. Since the larger numbers represent less commonly recycled materials, not all recycling vendors will have the ability to recycle them. It’s important to review any recycling guidelines you receive from your local municipality to know what types of plastics you can recycle.

2. The “Green Dot” Symbol

This symbol tells us that a product is part of a product stewardship program, which means that the manufacturer is taking responsibility for the environmental impact of the product throughout its lifecycle. This isn’t specifically related to recycling, but instead demonstrates the manufacturer’s commitment to sustainable production.

3. The “Compost” Symbol

This symbol indicates that a material is biodegradable and can be composted. If your household or organization has a composting practice, you can add the item to your compost bin.

Recycling Symbols & Recycling in Your Area

Whether the plastic item you want to recycle has a 1 or 7 inside the symbol, the best way to know for certain whether it’s recyclable is to check with your local recycling facility. Get to know their specific guidelines and then adjust your recycling practices accordingly.

Also keep in mind that recyclability can also depend on the condition of the item. If a recyclable item is notably dirty or damaged, the recycling facility may not accept it. To avoid this possibility, do your best to clean out items before recycling.

Looking to recycle e-waste or for a prepaid recycling program? CheckSammy can help. Contact us to learn about our on-demand recycling services.


Take a positive step toward reducing landfill waste. Contact us to discuss how we can help you level up your sustainability initiatives with our commercial junk removal, recycling, and analytics solutions today.

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