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Recycling codes and resin identification symbols (for packaging)

Matt Dobson: Last Updated 16th February 2024
Posted In: Environment | Guides and Advice xx 31179

What are recycling codes?

Identifying packaging materials to aid recycling

An understanding of recycling codes can be hugely beneficial. This is particularly true if you are responsible for your business’ packaging, the sustainability of your organisation, or are a consumer struggling to recycle packaging.

Recycling codes identify the material from which an item is made. Despite common perception, the codes do not indicate whether an item is recyclable. Materials with specific recycling codes include paper, glass, metals and composites. Codes are displayed in a triangular chasing arrows logo, with a number and accompanying letters.

The European Commission system also includes batteries. And when considering plastics specifically, it is common to refer to them as resin identification codes (RIC).

This guide provides an overview of all the recycling codes and symbols. With additional information on materials commonly used in packaging, you can also download the relevant logos in several formats.


Background and history

The introduction of resin identification codes (RIC)

The Mobius loop, arguably the most well-known recycling symbol, was created in the early 1970s as part of a competition.

However, by the 1980s, plastics manufacturers had begun to use a similar symbol but with the addition of a number inside. The companies used these symbols to denote the type of plastic – a resin identification code (RIC).

Due to the nature of the design, many consumers believed that it indicated a product or packaging item was recyclable. But all the RIC does is tell plastic manufacturers what type of material the item uses in its manufacture – it does not address recyclability in any way.

Due to this, the extended polymer identification system used in China switched away from the well-known design featuring the chasing arrows. It instead now uses a solid equilateral triangle.

The bottom of a plastic bottle, showing its recycling code
Recycling codes are actually used for identifying materials, not providing information on recyclability.

Codes defined by the European Commission

The European Commission defined various resin identification codes to standardise across member territories. The EC system, however, extended beyond plastic resins to cover glass, paper, batteries, metals and other materials that consumers are likely to encounter.

These are the codes you can find in this guide.

Recycling codes on packaging

As packaging is one of the most frequently handled items by consumers, and they recycle most often, the recycling codes are often synonymous with packaging.

However, recycling codes are available for a vast range of different materials (which companies use to manufacture a broad range of products).

Nevertheless, this guide focuses on the recycling codes and symbols most commonly found on packaging.

You can also see details of specific packaging recycling symbols in this guide.

Correct usage

Important notice on using these symbols

The following symbols and logos are provided for free download on this page in either vector (EPS) or bitmap (JPEG) format for you to use as appropriate.

Please note, however, it is your responsibility to ensure that any symbols used are done so in the correct manner.

GWP Group Ltd can accept no responsibility for unlawful or incorrect use of the supplied symbols. GWP can also accept no responsibility for damage or loss resulting from incorrect usage of these symbols on your packaging.

If you have any doubts, contact your packaging or material supplier in the first instance. You can also speak with a GWP advisor using the details on this page.

Resin identification codes for plastics

Codes used for plastics and polymers

The following symbols indicate the type of plastic polymer used on a specific product or packaging. Many organisations commonly refer to these as resin identification codes.

#1 PET(E) - Polyethylene terephthalate

01-PET symbol

Polyethylene terephthalate is popular in packaging applications for soft drink bottles and food containers. Polyester fibres fall in this category.

#2 PEHD or HDPE - High-density polyethylene

02-PEHD symbol

Polyethylene is commonplace in various forms of packaging, including plastic bags, bottle caps, and a wide range of foams.

#3 PVC - Polyvinyl chloride

03-PVC symbol

Not commonly used in packaging, Polyvinyl chloride is suited to making window frames, pipes and flooring.

#4 PELD or LDPE - Low-density polyethylene

04-PE-LD symbol

Manufacturers use LDPE for creating packaging, such as Ziploc bags, alongside consumer products, such as buckets and chopping boards.

#5 PP – Polypropylene

05-PP symbol

Businesses use Polypropylene for items such as car bumpers and DVD cases, but it is also used to manufacture Correx®.

#6 PS – Polystyrene

06-PS symbol

Polystyrene is well known for its use in protective packaging (often under the brand name Styrofoam).

#7 O (Other) - All other plastics

07-PS symbol

This category covers other plastics, including Polycarbonate (PC), polyamide (PA), styrene acrylonitrile (SAN), acrylic plastics/polyacrylonitrile (PAN) and bioplastics.

ABS - Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene

ABS symbol

You can find ABS in consumer products such as phones, TVs, monitors, etc.

PA - Polyamide (Nylon)

PA symbol

Nylon is popular in clothing applications but use for packaging is rare.

Paper recycling codes

Recycling codes for paper products

You can find the symbols in the following section on paper-based materials and products, including corrugated cardboard packaging.

#20 PAP - Corrugated fiberboard (cardboard)

20-PAP symbol

PAP 20 denotes corrugated cardboard – one of the most widely used forms of packaging, creating eCommerce, retail, industrial and postal boxes.

#21 PAP - Non-corrugated fiberboard (paperboard)

21-PAP symbol

The use of non-corrugated fibreboard is commonplace for packaging foods such as cereals. Gift boxes and promotional packs frequently use this material too.

#22 PAP - Paper

22-PAP symbol

Besides books, newspapers and catalogues, packaging applications such as bags and straws use paper-based materials.

Metal recycling codes

Recycling codes for metal packaging

These recycling codes are those used for metal products such as cans and containers.

#40 FE - Steel

40-FE symbol

Steel is mainly used for food cans (outside of industrial applications).

#41 ALU - Aluminium

41-ALU symbol

Aluminium packaging includes soft drink cans, aluminium foil, and single-use food containers. It can also be used for heavy duty aluminium cases and kit skips.

Biomatter recycling codes

Recycling codes for biomaterials

The European Commission defines recycling codes for biomatter materials like wood, cotton and other fabrics.

#50 FOR - Wood

50-FOR symbol

Businesses use wood to create packaging crates and pallets alongside consumer goods such as furniture.

#51 FOR - Cork

51-FOR symbol

The main application for cork in terms of packaging is as a “bottle stopper” for wines and similar drinks.

#60 COT - Cotton

60-TEX symbol

Cotton is occasionally used in packaging to laminate surfaces to prevent scuffing of items, including in reusable stillages.

#61 TEX – Jute

61-TEX symbol

Jute may be used to create bags (besides its application in clothing).

Glass recycling codes

Recycling codes for glass packaging

Glass is a widely used material for packaging (particularly bottles); therefore, the European Commission has created several recycling codes for this material.

#70 GL - Clear glass

70-GL symbol

Clear glass is popular for food storage jars and bottles.

#71 GL - Green glass

71-GL symbol

Green glass is used primarily for wine and other alcoholic beverages.

#72 GL - Brown glass

72-GL symbol

Brown glass is typical for packaging food or drink that may be light-sensitive.

Other types of glass, not typically used in packaging applications, include the following:

#73 GL - Dark sort glass

#74 GL - Light sort glass

#75 GL - Light leaded glass

#76 GL - Leaded glass

#77 GL - Copper mixed/Copper-backed glass

#78 GL - Silver mixed/Silver-backed glass

#79 GL - Gold mixed/Gold-backed glass


Composite material recycling codes

Composites are effectively combinations of materials (e.g. plastic laminated paper). These can be difficult to recycle, so they have their own recycling codes.

#80 Paper - Paper and miscellaneous metals

80 symbol

Manufacturers may mix paper with various metals to provide enhanced properties when used for packaging.

#81 PapPet - Paper and plastic

81 symbol

Packaging such as pet food bags, ice cream tubs, and disposable plates use paper and plastic composite material.

#82 - Paper and fibreboard/aluminium

82 symbol

Using paper and aluminium in packaging, such as snack tubes, is relatively common.

#84 C/PAP (or PapAl) - Paper and cardboard/plastic/aluminium

84-CPAP symbol

Drinks producers use paper combined with plastic and/or aluminium for juice cartons and other liquid storage containers.

#87 CSL (Card-stock laminate) - Biodegradable plastic

87-CSL symbol

You can find this type of composite material in greeting cards, flyers, brochures and similar items.

#90 - Plastics/aluminium

90-CLDPE symbol

Plastics combine with aluminium for use in toothpaste tubes and vacuum-packed goods bags.

Other composite materials, less commonly used for packaging, include the following.

#83 - Paper and fibreboard/tinplate

#85 - Paper and fibreboard/plastic/aluminium/tinplate

#91 - Plastic/tinplate

#92 - Plastic/miscellaneous metals

#95 - Glass/plastic

#96 - Glass/aluminium

#97 - Glass/tinplate

#98 - Glass/miscellaneous metals


Recycling codes for batteries

Batteries also have their own recycling codes. So although not applicable to packaging, for the sake of completeness, these codes are as follows:

#8 Lead - Lead–acid battery

#9 Alkaline - Alkaline battery

#10 NiCD - Nickel–cadmium battery

#11 NiMH - Nickel–metal hydride battery

#12 Li - Lithium battery

#13 SO(Z) - Silver-oxide battery

#14 CZ - Zinc–carbon battery


Understanding recycling codes and use on your packaging

Depending on the market you operate in, the type of products you manufacture or sell, and your location, including the relevant recycling code on your packaging (or products), may be compulsory.

Even if it isn’t, it can help your consumers to identify if and how they can recycle your packaging.

However, the range of alternative packaging recycling symbols may be more appropriate – and clearer – for your customers.

As a customer of GWP, you can ask for advice on the best recycling codes, logos and symbols to include on your packaging. Please get in touch with a packaging expert today for assistance.

Further Reading...

About the Author

Matt Dobson, GWP Group Marketing Manager

Matt Dobson

Marketing Manager | GWP Group

Matt has worked in the packaging industry for over 10 years, having joined GWP Group as Marketing Executive in 2012. [Read full bio]

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