Recycle, reuse, reduce ocean pollution, prevent landfill – we’re continually being told what we should be doing with our waste. But how do you know if you can recycle it, or if it needs to be thrown away with your other non-recyclable waste? It’s very important that you get this right, as one piece of waste that’s disposed of in the wrong way can contaminate everything else, potentially causing whole lorry loads to be sent to landfill.
We’ll let you in on a secret – recycling symbols can be confusing. Even as a marine conservation charity, they can confuse us. Symbols often look similar at a glance, but they can mean myriad different things, leading to confusion when we’re just trying to do the right thing.
We decided to tackle the issue head on by delving inside our own kitchen cupboards, recording the symbols we came across and exploring what they actually mean when it comes to recycling.
Inside our volunteers’ kitchen cupboards: recycling symbols explained
1. Recycle now icon. The green symbol shown here is the clearest and most obvious call to action to get recycling. If you see this symbol, it means that the item can be recycled as part of the household waste recycling scheme. It will usually be accompanied by a description of the type of waste, as seen here – if you separate your recycling waste out into different bins or boxes, this will be helpful for you. This might sometimes be accompanied by a note to ‘rinse’ the packaging if required.
The black icon next to the recycle symbol shows the exact opposite – that a material cannot be recycled. It’s always worth checking for this, even if the external packaging is widely recycled, as its contents might not be. This helps you separate out your recycling and your other types of waste so that they’re all being disposed of in the correct way.
Sometimes you might see this black symbol accompanies by a note to ‘check locally’, as seen on this orange juice carton. In this case, you’ll need to check the guidance from your local council – read this carefully, as it differs by area.
2. The green dot. This is one of the more confusing recycling symbols. It’s often thought to mean the same as the ‘recycle now’ symbol, but unfortunately it’s not that simple.
The green dot demonstrates that the producer has made a financial contribution towards packaging recovery and recycling in Europe, so it doesn’t actually show anything about the packaging itself.
However, this glass jar can definitely be recycled, as shown by the black triangular symbol next to the green dot. Glass can be widely recycled as part of household recycling schemes, but if you do visit a bottle bank, remember to separate out colours.
3. Plastic resin codes. These might be found on plastic bottles, and if you see this symbol with a number inside, the bottle can be recycled. Just remember to wash it out first – especially if there’s something sticky inside, like this bottle of maple syrup!
4. Mobius loop. This shows that the object can, theoretically, be recycled. However, this doesn’t mean that it can be at all recycling centres, so it’s worth checking guidelines from your local council. Helpfully, this jar of shitake mushrooms shows the mobius loop along with a request to recycle it, but this won’t always be present.
5. FSC logo. Next to the recycle now icon, this cardboard box also features the logo of the Forest Stewardship Council. This shows that the packaging has been made from wood sourced from sustainably managed forests, which have been independently certified. As cardboard products can be widely recycled, the FSC logo usually indicates that the packaging can be recycled.
6. A slight deviation from the kitchen cupboard, but still an important symbol to know – the crossed out wheelie bin means that this item cannot be disposed of with domestic waste. At the end of their usable life, items such as the Bluetooth headphones that came in this box will need to be disposed of at a household recycling centre, where you should be able to find dedicated skips for electrical equipment.
Other symbols you might see: what do they mean?
There are some other symbols you might come across when looking at packaging.
This might be seen on compostable plastic packaging, which is designed to break down and therefore shouldn’t be placed with normal plastic waste.
This indicates that a product is made from recyclable aluminium. This is widely recycled, and many household items are made from aluminium, including drinks cans and food trays.
If you see this symbol, it means the product is made of steel which can be recycled. Check how steel can be recycled in your local area.
And there you have it. Your chance to get a sneak peek inside our kitchen cupboards – and more importantly, to learn about recycling symbols.
It’s so important that you dispose of waste in the correct way, and that you educate yourself in the meaning of the different symbols you might see on packaging. It’s also a good idea to check the criteria in your local area, as each council has their own recycling rules. They will often put information leaflets about recycling through your door – alternatively, you can check their website for all the information you need.
This guide should shed some light on responsible recycling practices and help you dispose of your waste in the correct way. It’s important we all persevere and work with our local councils to make recycling as successful as possible – our marine life will thank us for it.