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.

In many countries, including the United States and the European Union, there are regulations that require businesses to label their products with recycling symbols to ensure that they are properly disposed of after use. By using the correct symbols, businesses can comply with these regulations and avoid potential fines or penalties.We’re breaking down the most commonly used recycling symbols to make your recycling experience easier.

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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 6 Most Common Recycling Symbols

Here are some common recycling symbols and what they mean:

1. The Mobius Loop (Chasing Arrows)

Mobius Loop 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.

What is the Mobius Loop?

The symbol indicates that a product or packaging material is recyclable but it doesn’t guarantee that the product or packaging material will actually be recycled.The Mobius Loop symbol, also known as the recycling symbol, consists of three arrows in the shape of a triangle. It is the most widely recognized symbol for recycling around the world. Types of Recyclable Material Under Mobius Loop

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:

  • Plastic Resin Codes– The number inside the Mobius Loop symbol (1-7) indicates the type of plastic used in the product, which can help recycling facilities sort plastics for recycling.
    • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE)
    • High-density polyethylene (HDPE)
    • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
    • Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)
    • Polypropylene (PP)
    • Polystyrene (PS)
    • Other (includes all other types of plastic that don’t fit into the first six categories)
  • Paper – This symbol can be used on paper products such as cardboard boxes, paper bags, and newspapers.
  • Glass – This symbol can be used on glass bottles, jars, and other glass packaging.
  • Metal – This symbol can be used on aluminum cans, steel cans, and other metal packaging.
  • Textiles – This symbol can be used on clothing, fabrics, and other textile materials.

It’s important to note that not all products with the Mobius Loop symbol are accepted for recycling in every recycling program. The acceptance of materials for recycling may vary depending on local regulations, the availability of recycling facilities, and the specific requirements of the recycling program.

To ensure that you’re recycling correctly, it’s best to check with your local recycling program to see which materials are accepted for recycling in your area. You can also look for specific recycling instructions on the product packaging or visit the manufacturer’s website for information on recycling their products.

Importance of The Green Dot Symbol

Understanding the Green Dot symbol and its significance is important for businesses that manufacture and distribute products in Europe, or for those who export products to European markets. By displaying the Green Dot symbol on packaging, manufacturers show that they are taking responsibility for the packaging waste generated by their products and are contributing to the recovery and recycling of that waste. This can be an important factor in meeting legal requirements for recycling and waste reduction in Europe, as well as in building a positive reputation for environmental responsibility.

2. The “Green Dot” Symbol

Green Dot Recycling 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.

What is the Green Dot Recycling symbol?

The Green Dot symbol indicates that the manufacturer of the product has paid a fee to a packaging recovery organization in order to contribute to the costs of recovering and recycling packaging materials. The Green Dot symbol is a recycling logo that is commonly used in Europe. It was created by a non-profit organization called Duales System Deutschland (DSD) in Germany in 1991. 

The Green Dot symbol is used to indicate that the product’s packaging is part of a collection and recovery system for packaging waste. The symbol is often found on packaging such as paper, cardboard, plastic, and metal.

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.

What does the Compost Recycling Symbol mean?

The compost symbol is a logo that is used to indicate that a product or material is compostable. The symbol features a stylized leaf with the word “compostable” written underneath it. The compost symbol is intended to help consumers identify products that are suitable for composting, and to help composting facilities identify materials that can be composted.

The compost symbol is used on products that meet specific standards for compostability. These standards may vary depending on the country or region, but generally include criteria for biodegradability, toxicity, and the ability to break down into usable compost. In many cases, products that are certified as compostable have been tested in composting facilities to ensure that they break down properly and do not leave any harmful residues behind.

Types of Compostable Material

There are many types of compostable materials that can be broken down into nutrient-rich soil through the composting process. Here are some examples:

  1. Food waste: This includes fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, and tea bags.
  2. Yard waste: This includes grass clippings, leaves, and small twigs.
  3. Paper products: Uncoated paper products like newspapers, paper bags, and cardboard can be composted.
  4. Wood products: Small wood chips and sawdust can be composted, but it’s important to avoid wood that has been treated with chemicals.
  5. Plant-based plastics: Some types of biodegradable and compostable plastics made from plant materials like corn starch, sugar cane, or cellulose can be composted.
  6. Natural fibers: Natural fibers like cotton, wool, and hemp can be composted.
  7. Animal manure: This includes manure from cows, horses, chickens, and other farm animals.

It’s important to note that not all compostable materials are suitable for all composting systems. For example, some industrial composting facilities may not accept food waste or animal manure, while others may require specific types of compostable plastics. It’s important to research the specific composting requirements and regulations in your area before adding materials to your compost pile or using compostable products.

5. Recyclable Steel Symbol

Recycling Steel Symbol

Recyclable steel refers to steel that can be recycled and reused in the production of new steel products. Steel is one of the most widely recycled materials in the world, with a recycling rate of around 90% in North America and Europe.

Steel is a durable and strong material that is used in a wide range of products, including cars, appliances, construction materials, and packaging. When steel products reach the end of their useful life, they can be collected and processed at recycling facilities to recover the steel and use it as a raw material for new products.

What does the Recyclable Steel Symbol mean?

The recyclable steel symbol is a logo that indicates that a product or packaging is made from steel that is recyclable. The symbol features a stylized triangle with the letters “Fe” inside, which is the chemical symbol for iron, the primary component of steel.

The symbol is used to help consumers identify products that can be recycled and to encourage them to properly dispose of steel products in recycling bins or at recycling facilities. By recycling steel, businesses can reduce their environmental impact, conserve natural resources, and support the circular economy.

6. Glass Recycling Symbol

Glass Recycling Symbol

Glass recycling is the process of collecting, sorting, and processing glass waste to create new glass products. Glass is a highly recyclable material that can be recycled indefinitely without losing quality or purity. Recycling glass helps to conserve natural resources, reduce energy consumption, and prevent glass waste from ending up in landfills or littering the environment.

The process of glass recycling typically involves the following steps:

  1. Collection: Glass waste is collected from homes, businesses, and other sources and transported to a recycling facility.
  2. Sorting: Glass is sorted by color and type (such as clear, green, or brown) to ensure that only compatible glass is processed together. Non-glass materials, such as plastic or metal caps, are also removed during the sorting process.
  3. Processing: The sorted glass is crushed into small pieces, called cullet, which are then melted in a furnace to create new glass products. The cullet is mixed with raw materials, such as sand, soda ash, and limestone, to create the desired glass composition.
  4. Manufacturing: The molten glass is molded or blown into new products, such as bottles, jars, or glass fiber insulation.

Recycling glass has numerous environmental benefits. It reduces the need for virgin raw materials, such as sand and limestone, which can be environmentally damaging to extract. It also reduces energy consumption, as it requires less energy to melt and reform cullet than to produce new glass from raw materials. Additionally, recycling glass helps to reduce waste in landfills, where glass can take thousands of years to decompose.

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.


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