Take a look at the label on the fizzy drink, chocolate bar, or packet of artisan kale chips sitting on your desk, and you’ll probably see a confusing array of arrows, circles, triangles, numbers and little cartoon men beside bins. It can be a little overwhelming, figuring out what goes in which bin, but help is at hand! Our simple guide will help you decipher some of the most commonly used logos so you’ll be recycling like a pro in no time.

Widely recycled

This label is pretty straightforward – it means that the item is widely recycled and so can be put in any recycling bin.

Sometimes there is additional information underneath this label to provide more information about what can be recycled. The above labels are from a microwavable meal – the card packaging is widely recycled, the plastic tray holding the food is only recyclable in some areas and the plastic film is not recyclable at all, so should be put in the general waste bin.

The Green Dot

This sneaky symbol is common on lots of packaging but don’t be fooled by its smooth talking and non-threatening green appearance: it does not mean that the item is recyclable or even that it is made from recycled materials. It simply shows that the company has donated money towards a recycling scheme somewhere in the world.

Mobius loop

Many people think that this symbol (the Mobius loop) shows that an item can be recycled, but this is not the full the picture. The Mobius loop does show that an item is capable of being recycled, but not that this will definitely be accepted by all councils for recycling. If you are unsure of whether a product can be recycled in your area, you can check here.

Sometimes this symbol will be printed with a number inside the triangle – this shows you what % of recycled material the packaging contains.

Plastic type codes

This symbol is often confused with the recycling logo above, but actually just tells you what type of plastic the item is made from. Each type of plastic is numbered from 1-7. Although most are theoretically recyclable, in practice sometimes this is very difficult to do so many recycling plants will not be able recycle certain materials.

See below our handy field-guide to commonly spotted plastics. You can find more information about each type of plastic on the WRAP website.

# Name to use if you’re showing off at a party Common aliases Should I recycle it?
1 Polyethylene Terephthalate Water and fizzy drink bottles, salad trays. Yes please!
2 High Density Polyethene Bottles for cleaning products, milk, shampoos. Absolutely!
3 Polyvinyl Chloride Pipes, fittings, car parts, fake leather pants. Nope.
4 Low Density Polyethene Carrier bags, bin liners, packaging films Doubtful.
5  Polypropylene Bottle tops, soup containers, margarine tubs.  Not right now, but maybe in the future!
6 Polystyrene  Plastic cups, packaging material. Highly unlikely.
7  Other Snowboards, baby bottles, assorted other bits and bobs. For the love of god no.


More and more packaging is now being made from materials which can be composted after they are used. This logo shows you that the packaging has been certified as being fully compostable.

Packaging with this logo shouldn’t be put in with the recycling as it can’t be recycled in the same way as other plastic items. Items with this logo can usually be recycled with garden waste.

 Tidy Man

This symbol from Keep Britain Tidy (http://www.keepbritaintidy.org/) doesn’t relate to recycling at all – but is just a reminder for people to dispose of their rubbish in the most appropriate way, i.e. put your empty water bottle in a recycling bin instead of tossing it out the window of a moving car into a wildlife reserve for orphaned baby seals.


Things to remember

Just to make recycling even more confusing, lots of packaging won’t have any recycling labels on it at all, but that doesn’t mean you can’t recycle it!

If you are unsure about recycling across the University, have a look at the information on all of our bins – this gives you a good idea of which items go in which bin. If you are still not sure, ask us. You can get in touch with us at sustainability@westminster.ac.uk

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