Understanding Recycling Symbols: Your Guide to Sustainable Waste Management

20 September 2023

Recycling Symbols UK

Navigating the world of recycling symbols can sometimes feel like deciphering a foreign language. Each symbol, colour and number has its own unique meaning and they can be confusing to even the most seasoned recyclers.

Here at the National Resource Consortium, we have decades of experience in providing sustainable waste management services to businesses across the UK. Much of business recycling comes from consumable products either brought onto, or bought at, the premises, for example soft drinks bottles and cans.

It’s important to make sure your office waste recycling is the best it can be, so we’ve put together this guide to help your staff make your office recycling go as smoothly as it can.

On-pack recycling labels

In a time where sustainability is not just a trend, but a necessity, the on-pack recycling labels (OPRL) are an important guide for your employees. Through this system, you can clearly see how to dispose of product packaging.

Widely Recycled

Widely Recycled

When we talk about items that are widely recycled, we’re referring to the most common recyclable materials that find their way into our offices. This includes plastic bottles, glass containers, and paper/cardboard.

When you see this label, it means that the packaging will be collected by at least 75% of local authorities across the UK.

Widely Recycled – Rinse

Rinsed Widely Recycled

For certain packaging materials that are widely recycled, it’s best to give them a quick rinse before disposal. Why? Rinsing helps in removing food residue, ensuring that the recycling process is efficient and free from contamination.

So, if you see this icon, give the packaging a quick wash before you put it in the recycling bin.

Not Currently Recycled

Not Yet Recycled

Sometimes, materials can’t be recycled. Items with this label will be collected by less than 20% of local councils.

The reasons range from the absence of appropriate recycling facilities, to the presence of contaminants that make the recycling process challenging. Items like crisp packets or specific types of plastic packaging often fall under this category.

Universal recycling symbols

While recycling guidelines may vary from place to place, understanding the universal recycling symbols can help every business do their part for the environment.

Glass Recycling

Glass Recycling

Glass is one of the most commonly recycled materials throughout the UK. You will likely come across this icon on items like bottles and jars. When you do, you can put it straight into your glass recycling bin.

Recyclable Aluminium

Recyclable Aluminium

This symbol indicates that an item is made from recyclable aluminium. Aluminium is one of those magical materials that can be recycled multiple times over without losing its quality.

The aluminium recycling process begins with the collection of used aluminium products, like soda cans, foil wraps, and even some electronics. These items are then shredded, cleaned, and melted in a furnace, before being moulded into new aluminium products. The beauty of recycling aluminium is that it requires only 5% of the energy used to make new aluminium.

Recyclable Steel

Recyclable Steel

If you see this icon it means that the packaging is made from recyclable steel. Recycling steel uses 60% less energy than producing it newly from raw materials. Common recyclable steel products include food cans and aerosol cans, like spray paint.

Waste Electricals

Waste Electronics

As we live in such a technologically-driven world, waste electricals are becoming one of the largest streams of recycled waste – especially for businesses.

However, they can contain materials that are dangerous so it’s important that, if packaging has this symbol, you check your local authority guidelines on how to dispose of it in your area.



When people think of compostable waste, they usually think of garden waste or food scraps. And they aren’t wrong, but did you know it can also include items like paper towels and some bioplastics?

If you see this symbol, it means that these items are industrially compostable. Just remember, don’t pop any compostable plastics into your food waste recycling bin.

Other helpful symbols to remember

The Green Dot

The Green Dot is often mistaken for a recycling mark but it actually means that the producer of the packaging has made a financial contribution towards the recovery and recycling of packaging in European countries. In short, it represents a company’s commitment to the environment.

If you see this image on packaging, double check for other symbols to find out how to dispose of it.

Mobius Loop

This is the recycling symbol that most people recognise and it tells us that a product is either recyclable or made of recycled materials. It reminds us that the packaging could be recycled but doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it can be.

Paper, Card and Wood

Alongside metals, plastics and glass sits the other most widely recycled group of materials – paper, card and wood. When wood is recycled it can be turned into paper and card. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) icon means that a product has been made using wood from well managed forests.

Start your sustainable waste management today

If you’re struggling with your company’s waste management, you’ve come to the right place. Here at the National Resource Consortium, we have a network of independent waste management businesses that covers 98% of the UK.

What does this mean for you? A streamlined waste management solution that is responsive and reactive. No matter what type of waste you produce, where you’re based or how many sites you operate, our services have you covered. Get in touch with our team today and we can book you in for a free waste audit, we’ll do all the heavy lifting thereafter.