It’s important that we recycle correctly, but confusing and ambiguous recycling symbols on product packaging don’t exactly make it easy.
The consequences of recycling the wrong material can lead to immense amounts of waste. Sometimes entire lorries of material are sent to landfill or incineration instead, as it can be too costly for recycling facilities to fix mistakes.
Read more: The problem with plastic recycling
Understanding recycling symbols, and knowing what your local council collects, are crucial to making sure you manage your waste properly. So let’s get started!
Read next: Plastic symbols explained
Whoopie — the chances are you can recycle this item. This symbol is used for packaging that is collected by 75% or more councils in the UK.
Widely recycled at recycling centres
Although your item is recyclable, you can’t put it in your home recycling bin. You’ll need to take it to a local recycling centre. An example of this is a metal paint can.
Widely recycled at recycling points
You might be able to recycle this item at home, but you’ll need to check. Otherwise, you’ll have to take it to a recycling point. An example of this is Tetra Pak cartons.
By the way, recycling centres and recycling points are the same thing. The recycling symbols like to keep us on our toes.
Recycle with bags at larger stores
A lot of plastic can’t be recycled at home, but can be at some large supermarkets. You can take plastic cereal bags, kitchen roll wraps, bread bags, multipack shrink wrap, magazine wraps, and more, to be recycled.
Not yet recycled
Boo, this item either can’t be recycled anywhere, or is only collected by less than 20% of councils.
The Green Dot
This symbol signifies that the producer of the item has made a financial contribution towards recovering and recycling it. It doesn’t give any indication as to whether your council recycles it, or even if it’s recycled in the UK.
This indicates that the item is capable of being recycled — somewhere. But that ‘somewhere’ may not even be in the UK. Like the Green Dot, this symbol doesn’t give much away.
This symbol encourages you to recycle your glass container. Dispose of glass via a bottle bank or kerbside collection.
This indicates that your electrical item can be recycled — and should not be put in the general waste.
In landfill, harmful chemicals can leach from electrical waste and enter water systems, causing pollution and death to marine life.
Your product can be industrially composted. This isn’t the same as home composting (spoiler: that’s the next symbol). An example of this would be compostable plastic.
Councils don’t provide a collection scheme for industrial composting, so at the moment it’s very difficult to dispose of these materials correctly in the UK.
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
This identifies that your paper, card, or wood-based product comes from well managed forests. These forests are independently certified by FSC.
The bottom line is, the only way of knowing if you can recycle your item is to know what your local council collects. Because every council collects different things, recycling symbols can’t be relied on. Once you’ve checked, you could print the information out and keep it near your bin or on your fridge to get your household onboard (and settle some recycling disagreements!).
Recycling isn’t enough
If you can, it’s best to opt for reusable items. Avoiding waste — even if it’s recyclable — is always best. Reusing saves resources, energy, and, well, recycling isn’t exactly a perfect process.
But when that’s not an option, recycling correctly is crucial. So your new found knowledge of recycling is bound to come in handy!
Next up, find out what those confusing plastic symbols mean (they actually tell you really important information about your plastic item!).
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