Recycling Symbols Confusing You? Here’s What They Mean

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Recycling helps the environment and reduces the need for new raw materials. Materials that aren’t recycled end up in landfills that contribute to greenhouse gases. Ideally, we should decrease our usage to minimize the amount of waste we produce. Yet, there will still be items that need to be recycled and this needs to be done properly. 

It is important to sort your recyclables correctly so you don’t contaminate the rest of the recycling stream. Having the wrong kind of materials can also cause damage to the equipment. You might think that the centres can sort the items that are sent in but this increases costs significantly and there isn’t enough manpower to do this. 

The rule of thumb when recycling is to rinse items out, dry them off and separate them correctly. Food waste and other liquids could contaminate the materials. If it’s not done right, your efforts would be wasted and the items would be sent to the landfill.  

Recycling symbols explained 

These symbols are here to help you when you’re categorizing your waste. Recycling symbols may seem confusing but they don’t have to be. 

Here’s a symbol guide on what each one is telling you. 

Mobius Loop 

The Mobius loop is otherwise commonly known as the recycling symbol. Each arrow represents a different step in the recycling process and forms a closed loop. It could show up in two different forms.

The basic symbol indicates that an item is recyclable. Manufacturers label items based on the ability of it being recycled. Different localities have varied systems in place and not all items can be reprocessed everywhere. It is always best to check with your local recycling facilities to understand how it works in your area. 

Additionally, the Mobius loop with a percentage tells you how much of this particular item was made from recycled materials.  

Plastic recycling symbols 1 – 7

Plastic recycling packages often come labelled with the numbers 1-7 which denotes its plastic resin code. This code indicates the type of plastic it is and how it should be recycled. Different types should be separated because they are processed differently. 

1 Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE)

Polyethylene Terephthalate is the most commonly used plastic. It is lightweight, clear, strong and often used for single use purposes such as soda bottles. PETE can be used to make carpets, fibres and even automotive parts. Most curbside recycling centres will accept PETE plastics and they can also be recycled multiple times. 

2 High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

High Density Polyethylene is another plastic that can easily be found around the house. It is a lightweight and durable material that is used for packaging detergent, shampoos and motor oil. HDPE can be recycled up to 10 times and is commonly accepted by most recycling centres.

3 Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

Polyvinyl Chloride is labelled 3 and is the third most produced type of plastic. PVC is sometimes called “poison plastic” because it contains a variety of harmful toxins and should be kept away from children. It is used to make plastic pipes, hoses, computer cables and plastic food wrap. 

PVC is extremely difficult to recycle because of its many chemical additives. It’s best to repurpose PVC for other uses as it can be long lasting. 

4 Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

Low density polyethylene is the simplest plastic to produce and is used to make plastic bags. LDPE is used to make plastic shopping bags, shrink wrap, container lids and squeezable bottles. 

LDPE is a clean and safe plastic that is reusable but might not be recyclable. Try these alternatives to plastic bags. You will have to check your local recycling centre if they’re able to take them. 

5 Polypropylene (PP)

Polypropylene is also a safe plastic that is hard, sturdy and is able to withstand high temperatures. It is used to make tupperwares, straws, car parts and diapers. 

PP can sometimes be recycled depending on your local recycling centre. It can be recycled into brooms, bins and trays. 

PP plastics are safe for reuse but do consider reducing your usage by switching to reusable straws or cloth diapers. 

6 Polystyrene (PS)

Polystyrene is also referred to as styrofoam. It is widely used in food service items such as take away food containers, coffee cups and meat trays. Recycling is not widely available for polystyrene and it is often sent straight to the landfill. 

Where recycling is available, it can be recycled for insulation or school supplies. Some places might be willing to accept it to reuse as packaging chips. It is still recommended to avoid polystyrene where possible.

7 Unallocated References – Everything Else

Code 7 is used for anything that cannot be categorized as the first 6. This type of plastic is difficult to recycle and is usually not accepted at recycling centres. Sunglasses, baby bottles, compact discs and reusable bottles all come under this category. 

All uncategorized items fall into this category. It can be confusing because code 7 can also be used for compostable items.  A “PLA” label indicates that an item should not be recycled but be composted instead. 

Aluminium 

This symbol specifies that this item is made from recyclable aluminium. Aluminium can be recycled indefinitely and retains all of its properties even after being reprocessed. It is one of the most recycled items and can easily be put out for recycling all around the world. 

Paper

The paper recycling symbols can be found on paper packaging that can be recycled. Paper that is coated in wax or foil is not recyclable so be sure to look out for this symbol before putting it in the paper bin. Ensure that these paper products are not wet or have food stains on them. 

Steel 

This symbol identifies that this item is made from steel and is recyclable. Steel can be infinitely recycled without losing its properties or quality. Processed food, pet food cans and paint cans all come in steel packaging. Make sure to clean them before you leave them out. 

Glass 

This symbol tells you that this glass bottle can be recycled. Before dropping them off at the bottle bank, do separate them according to colours. Glass bottles could also have logos that have different numbers to differentiate their types. Not all glass containers can be recycled so it’s crucial to look out for the right symbols. 

Compostable

The seedling logo refers to items that are industrially compostable according to European standards. These items are designed to break down and cannot be recycled with other items. Be sure to keep these out of your recycling bin so you don’t contaminate the rest of your items. 

The seedling logo is trademarked by the European Bioplastic organization.

WEEE 

WEEE stands for ‘waste from electrical and electronic equipment’. As the symbol suggests, these items should not go into your bin. Items with the WEEE logo disposed of correctly in an environmentally friendly way by recycling them. These items have chemicals and substances in them that are toxic to the environment. 

The Green Dot 

The green dot symbol does not have any recycling meaning or instruction. It communicates that the manufacturing company contributed financially to efforts to recycle packages in Europe. Companies use this symbol to show that they are making an environmental contribution. 

Tidyman 

Tidyman is another symbol that shows up on packaging that is a reminder not to litter. It does not have a recycling meaning but serves as a nudge to consider how we are disposing of our waste. 

What does not go in the recycling bin?

Ideally, all materials should be able to be recycled but that’s not the reality. It is also quite easy for materials to be contaminated from other types of waste. Some items may fall into the categories above but still should not end up in the recycling bins. 

Common items that will ruin the rest of your recycling

  • Pizza boxes that have oil residue. The oil cannot be removed from the paper fibres and the box is rendered useless. 
  • Aluminium foil that might still have food traces. It’s quite difficult to remove these, so you’ll have to toss them instead. 
  • Pyrex. It is really good glass and it can withstand high temperatures so it won’t melt in the recycling process.
  • Aerosol cans that have any liquids left inside are considered hazardous. Clean them out well before recycling. 
  • Specially treated glass that won’t break down with the rest of the glass. 

Plastics that cannot be recycled

In some areas, you can put your plastic together and it will be sorted out at the centre. Generally, the lower down the list you go, the more likely the type of plastic cannot be recycled. While there are machines to sort out the types of plastic, it is still important not to put the wrong kind of plastic in the bin. 

Plastic films, plastic wrapping and plastic bags should not be put in the recycle bin because they can clog the machinery and taint all the other plastic in there. This could send the entire load to the landfill. It is also important to be aware of local guidelines of recycling to sort out plastics correctly. 

Conclusion 

Recycling saves energy, raw materials and also reduces cost. Converting waste back to raw materials extends its usefulness. It is important to do it correctly to fully benefit from this process. Where possible avoid using single use items, especially single use plastics and choose reusable items. 

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