Recycling Symbols Explained
An explanation of packaging recycling symbols, plus free vector downloads
Chances are you have already seen recycling symbols on packaging you have come into contact with today.
And with the vast majority of businesses striving to become more environmentally sustainable in the face of changing consumer demands, the use of recycled and recyclable packaging is likely to continue.
But look closer and you will see there a surprisingly large number of different recycling symbols. What do they all mean? And, should your business be using them on your own transit or ecommerce packaging?
This guide, as well as explaining recycling symbols (which effectively detail how different packaging can be recycled), also provides a number of free resources.
This includes free vector (EPS) and JPEG downloads of all the major recycling symbols for you to use when creating the print artwork for your own packaging (please note permission / accreditation may be required to use specific logos).
Quick Reference / Contents
Copyright & Correct Usage
Important notice on using these packaging symbols
The following symbols and logos provided for free download on this page as either vector (EPS) or bitmap (JPEG) format, for you to use as appropriate.
Please note that the downloadable files provided below are for use when you have the appropriate permission from the copyright holder, or governing body. It is your responsibility to ensure you can legally use these logos, and that you adhere to the correct usage guidelines. GWP Group Ltd can accept no responsibility for unlawful or incorrect use of the supplied symbols. If you have any doubt, please contact us using the details on this page.
It is also 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.
However, if you have any doubt, please contact us using the details on this page.
01: Recycling Symbols Chart
A range of symbols and icons to highlight recyclability of your packaging
Before providing a detailed explanation of each specific logo, the below recycling symbols chart provides a brief overview, illustration and the option to download the artwork files as required.
This chart provides an “at a glance” reference for seeing if / how specific types of packaging can be recycled, as well as those which are applicable for your own business’ packaging.
A general (and widespread) symbol that indicates that the packaging (or sometimes product itself) is recyclable.
Mobius Loop (with percentage)
Indicates that the packaging is recyclable, but also the percentage that has been made from recycled material.
The Green Dot
Signifies the packaging producer has made contribution towards packaging recycling. Doesn’t necessarily mean the packaging itself is recyclable. Note: use requires permission.
The Forest Stewardship Council®️ (FSC) logo identifies packaging / products which contain wood from well managed forests (requires certification). Note: use requires permission.
Developed by the International Corrugated Case Association, this symbol indicates that corrugated (cardboard) packaging can be recycled.
Compostable / Seedling
A registered trademark owned by European Bioplastics, the “seedling” symbol proves that a product is certified industrially compostable according to the European standard EN 13432. Note: use requires permission.
This certifies packaging is compostable in an industrial composting unit (including inks, additives etc.) in accordance with EN 13432: 2000 / EU packaging Directive ( 94/62/EEC).
OK Compost (Home)
As home composting does not generate the required heat to meet industrial guidelines, products suitable for home composting are marked with this specific symbol.
Now defunct, the National Association of Paper Merchants symbol indicates paper / board is manufactured from a minimum of 75% genuine waste paper and / or board fibre.
The RESY (GmbH) licensed symbol is for consolidation of transit packaging manufactured from corrugated cardboard only. It guarantees that packaging is recyclable. Note: use requires permission.
This recycling symbol is used on packaging that is collected by 75% (or more) of local authorities across the UK. This includes, for example, cardboard and plastic bottles. Note: use requires permission.
Not yet recycled
This symbol indicates that less that 20% of local authorities will collect the packaging for recycling (an example being crisp packets). Note: use requires permission.
This symbol is used as a reminder to recycle glass packaging, either at recycling points or as part of your household recycling collection.
This symbol is used to indicate aluminium packaging that is fully recyclable (including foil, fizzy drink cans etc.).
This symbol indicates that the product / packaging is manufactured from steel, and can be recycled by your local authority.
This symbol – from Keep Britain Tidy – doesn’t specifically relate to recycling, but acts as a reminder to not litter
This symbol highlights that you should not place the electrical item in the general waste (it should be taken to a local recycling centre). Variations of this symbol can be used for other items too.
Polyethylene Terephthalate is one of the most common plastics used for packaging (drinks bottles, tubs etc.). It is recyclable.
High-density polyethylene is another of the more common plastics, being used for milk bottles as well as toys, kitchenware and cable insulation. Usually recyclable.
Polyvinyl chloride is used for manufacturing window frames and doors, but is also used for wire insulation, flooring and footwear. It is not recyclable.
Low Density Polyethylene, whilst sometimes used in toys, is commonly used for squeezy bottles and packaging films. They are reusable, but not usually recyclable.
Polypropylene is often used for products that are injection moulded and blow moulded, plus bottle tops, food containers and packing tape. Can usually be recycled.
Polystyrene is used for protective packaging inserts, but also CD cases, takeaway food trays and insulation products. It is not recyclable.
Other kinds of plastic not defined by the previous groups are put under this category (e.g. BPA, Polycarbonate, LEXAN). Generally not recyclable.
02: Recycling Symbols on Cardboard
The most commonly used recycling logos on corrugated packaging
The remainder of this guide focuses on providing further details on those recycling symbols which would be most applicable to include on your corrugated packaging.
This will allow your business to not only chose the most appropriate recycling symbols for your packaging, but also educate your customers / end users on how best to recycle your packaging.
Businesses are also increasingly using recycling symbols to promote their environmental credentials – something which is growing in importance with specific consumer demographics who expect more sustainable packaging.
03: Mobius Loop Recycling Symbol
Recognisable recycling logo / graphic
The Mobius loop is perhaps the most recognisable recycling sign.
Originally created by Gary Anderson, the three arrows are used to represent the three “R”s – reducing, reusing and recycling. The negative space (in the centre) is also designed to represent a pine tree, whilst also being a variant of the traditional “Mobius” loop which symbolises continuity with a finite entity.
As the symbol was originally going to apply to just paper, the folding chasing arrows were designed to resemble folded newspapers.
There are actually 2 variants of this logo which can be used on your corrugated packaging.
The first, the symbol on its own, is now generally understood to be the international symbol for recycling, indicating that the packaging can be recycled. It doesn’t indicate that the packaging has been or is made from recycled material, merely that it can be in the future.
The Mobius loop with a percentage figure however, is used to show how much of the pack has been manufactured from recycled materials.
04: The Green Dot
PRO Europe – Packaging Recovery Organisation Europe
The Green Dot logo does not actually mean that the packaging in question has been recycled, nor that it can be recycled (meaning it can sometimes be found on reusable packaging). It simply signifies that the producer has made a (usually financial) contribution towards the recycling of packaging.
The logo is an internationally protected trademark of PRO Europe – Packaging Recovery Organisation Europe – and a valid license must be obtained before you are able to use the symbol on your packaging.
It is mandatory in France, Germany, Portugal and Spain, whilst voluntary in most of the rest of Europe (including the UK). It is required specifically on the unit sales of packaging where it is visible to the consumer.
Taken from PRO Europe’s guidelines for use:
“The Green Dot” trademark is an internationally protected and well-known symbol. These guidelines are intended to help companies using “The Green Dot” on their packaging – based on a valid license agreement with an authorized national packaging recovery organization – to use the symbol in the correct manner.
Definition: Any reference to “The Green Dot” trademark on packaging, must comply fully with the following definition. This definition follows from the trademark statute and is an essential part of license agreements between PRO EUROPE – Packaging Recovery Organisation Europe as the general licensee of the “The Green Dot” trademark rights on the one hand and the national PRO Europe member systems on the other hand.
“The Green Dot” trademark on packaging means that for such packaging, a financial contribution has been paid to a national packaging recovery company that has been set up in accordance with the principles defined in European Directive No. 94/62 and the corresponding national law.
For further information and details, please visit the PRO Europe website by clicking here.
05: Corrugated Recycles Logo
Widely adopted by corrugated packaging industry
Developed by the International Corrugated Case Association, the Corrugated Recycles symbol can be used internationally to both promote the recycling of corrugated and highlight that is recyclable.
The symbol can be used freely (there is no cost or registration process, unlike the Green Dot), providing there are no national or local laws prohibiting its use.
It is however important to point out that putting the symbol on a corrugated container does not indicate that the packaging is manufactured from recycled material, but rather means that the pack could (and should) be recycled.
This makes it a great recycling symbol to include on your corrugated packaging to remind your customers of their responsibility, and promote the environmental awareness of your own business.
Further information can be found by visiting the International Corrugated Case Association website here.
Forest Stewardship Council
The FSC’s “Tick tree” recycling symbol is used to signify that products are certified under the Forest Stewardship Council system.
What this means in practice, is that paper, card and wood products are produced from well managed forests.
The FSC is a global, not for profit organisation promoting responsible forest management throughout the world. It enables both businesses and consumers to make an informed choice about the products they buy that originate from forests.
The vast majority of the corrugated cardboard that GWP Group use in manufacturing your packaging is FSC approved. GWP can also offer “chain of custody” certification (registration can be viewed here).
Please speak with a GWP sales advisor if you are interested in using this symbol on your packaging.
For further information on the FSC, please watch the video below, or visit their website at fsc-uk.org
07: Compostable (Seedling)
The “Seedling” logo is a registered trademark of European Bioplastics, so suitable permissions / licensing would be required if you were you to use this recycling symbol on your packaging.
Use of it indicates packaging / products are certified industrially compostable according to the European standard EN 13432. Successfully certified products will fully biodegrade in an industrial composting plant under controlled conditions such as temperature, moisture and time frame – leaving nothing behind but water, biomass and CO2
08: OK Compost
Mark of compostable packaging
Similar to the Seedling logo, the OK Compost packaging recycling symbols indicates that the pack is compostable in an industrial composting unit.
The use of the symbol requires testing / compliance with EN 13432: 2000, which means any product featuring the OK Compost mark is also in accordance with the EU packaging Directive ( 94/62/EEC).
Effectively, this marking system guarantees that the certified product can be composted in an industrial composting facility.
OK Compost (Home)
As the general OK Compost symbol only applies to industrial composting (with controlled levels of heat etc.), the “Home” version was created to indicate any packaging or product that would also be compostable in domestic setups.
Details of both the industrial and domestic logos, and required accreditation, can be found by clicking here.
On Pack Recycling labels
OPRL – a paid scheme – provides the tools and support for businesses to assess and access simple, consistent and UK-wide recycling messages to appear on retailer and brand packaging.
The OPRL labelling system takes account of the whole recycling process from council and in-store collections to sorting at MRFs as well as assessing the likelihood of material being reprocessed into recyclate and used in packaging or other products. Where possible, the organisation promotes the use of two primary labels:
- Recycle – 75% or more of UK local authorities collect this type of packaging through household recycling collections. It is then effectively sorted, processed, and sold as recyclate for use in new packaging or products.
- Do Not Recycle – Fewer than 50% of UK local authorities collect this type of packaging through household recycling collections, and/or it is not effectively sorted, processed or sold as recyclate for use in new packaging or products.
Membership is available to all companies, from start-ups to major corporations, and allows the use of the widely recognised recycling labels on their packaging.
German recycling scheme
In Germany a paper and board recycling scheme called RESY exists. RESY is a consortium including the union of paper producers, the union of cardboard producers and a recycling and reverse logistics specialist Vfw.
The RESY (GmbH) licensed symbol is for consolidation of transit packaging manufactured from corrugated cardboard only. It’s use is widespread in Germany, although frequently used in the UK as well.
It should be used in combination with the manufacturers / importers identification number, although it is not required by law under jurisdiction.
It does however guarantee that packaging is recyclable and will be accepted by paper and cardboard recyclers
The final logo was originally created by the National Association of Paper Merchants, which was wound up in 2015.
However, the mark is still occasionally referenced, and indicates that a specific paper or board is made from a minimum of 75% genuine waste paper and / or board fibre, no part of which should contain mill produced waste fibre.
Choosing the right packaging recycling labels
Should you have any questions regarding the best option for your specific application, need help with a packaging reduction project, or are interested in GWP’s own environmental initiatives, please get in touch.