Recycling symbols explained
Packaging labels and recycling symbols are now appearing on lots of everyday items, and help us to identify how different types of packaging can be recycled.
The on-pack recycling label (or OPRL)
Look out for the following labels which appear on all sorts of packaging - from soft drink cans, to bread bags and plastic toiletry bottles. They will tell you whether the packaging is likely to be collected for recycling or if you can take it to your local recycling centre.
As local authorities do not all collect the same materials, the labels are based on what the majority collect, or do not collect.
If in doubt, enter your postcode into our Recycling Locator to find out what you can put in your recycling bin at home, where your nearest recycling locations are and how to recycle specific items such as mobile phones and textiles.
Remember: not all packaging will have a recycling label but this doesn't mean you can't recycle it.
This label is applied to packaging that is collected by 75% or more of local authorities across the UK, for example plastic bottles.
Widely Recycled - Rinse
Rinsing packaging, for example food trays, ensures that any food residue doesn’t contaminate other materials, particularly if they are collected together with paper.
It also helps to stop attracting vermin into the recycling sorting centres where people work.
Widely Recycled - Rinse, Lid On
You might see thise on a glass jar, for example. These items should be rinsed, as above, and their lids left on. Even though the lid of the jar might be metal, it is better to be kept on.
If the metal lid is too small then it will fall through holes in the sorting process, designed to remove contamination. The metal is separated from the glass by the glass recyclers and goes off to be recycled elsewhere.
Widely Recycled - Flatten, Cap On
Flatten – you might see this on plastic bottles and drinks cartons. Squashing or flattening the packaging means that you have more space in your recycling bin. It also makes the transport of recycling much more efficient – less air, more recycling, better for the environment. Replacing the caps on bottles (and some cartons too) helps to keep them flat.
Cap On - you might see this on plastic bottles. If the cap is too small then it will fall through the holes in the sorting process, designed to remove contamination. Keeping the cap on means that all of the packaging will get through the recycling process. When recycling is collected all mixed together it also helps to prevent other materials, particularly glass, getting stuck inside the bottles.
Bottle - Widely Recycled, Sleeve - Not Yet Recycled
Remove sleeve – depending on the packaging it can be good to remove the outer sleeve. For example, a paper sleeve that is wrapped around a large yoghurt pot can be removed and recycled with paper.
Sometimes the sleeves are not recyclable and therefore the instruction is to remove the sleeve and put it in the waste bin. If it doesn’t say either way, then you can probably leave it on and it will be removed during the recycling process.
Widely Recycled at Recycling Centres
Metal paint cans
Metal paint cans can be recycled at recycling centres. Some paint can also be recycled. Check with your local council.
Widely Recycled at Recycling Points:
Recycle with Bags at Larger Stores:
This label is applied to packaging that is collected by 20-75% of local authorities across the UK, for example some types of plastic packaging.
Not Yet Recycled
This label is applied to packaging when less than 20% of local authorities collect it across the UK, for example crisp packets.
The following symbols can be found on a variety of packaging and explain a range of information: whether or not an item can be recycled, how to dispose of the item, or if it's made of recycled material.
The Green Dot
The Green Dot does not necessarily mean that the packaging is recyclable, will be recycled or has been recycled. It is a symbol used on packaging in some European countries and signifies that the producer has made a financial contribution towards the recovery and recycling of packaging in Europe.
This indicates that an object is capable of being recycled, not that the object has been recycled or will be accepted in all recycling collection systems. Sometimes this symbol is used with a percentage figure in the middle to explain that the packaging contains x% of recycled material.
Plastic resin codes
This identifies the type of plastic resin used to make the item by providing a 'Resin Identification Code'. It is represented with a 'chasing arrows' symbol surrounding a a number between 1 and 7 that defines the resin used.
This symbol asks that you recycle the glass container. Please dispose of glass bottles and jars in a bottle bank, remembering to separate colours, or use your glass household recycling collection if you have one.
This symbol indicates that the item is made from recyclable aluminium.
This symbol means that the product is made of steel.
All local authorities collect steel cans for recycling. Other steel or metal items can be taken to your household recycling centre.
This symbol from Keep Britain Tidy asks you not to litter. It doesn't relate to recycling but is a reminder to be a good citizen, disposing of the item in the most appropriate manner.
This symbol explains that you should not place the electrical item in the general waste. Electrical items can be recycled through a number of channels.
Products certified to be industrially compostable according to the European standard EN 13432/14955 may bear the 'seedling' logo.
Never place compostable plastic into the recycling with other plastics; as it is designed to break down it cannot be recycled and contaminates recyclable plastics. Plastics that carry this symbol can be recycled with your garden waste through your local authority.
In addition to the seedling symbol for industrial composting, you may see this one which means that it is suitable to be home composted.
Paper, card and wood
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo identifies wood-based products from well managed forests independently certified in accordance with the rules of the FSC.
Find out where and how to recycle
Enter your postcode into our Recycling Locator tool to find out: