The recycling symbol is a famous logo with three arrows forming a loop. It’s known worldwide as a recycling sign. This recycling symbol was made on the first Earth Day in 1970 by Gary Anderson, who was a 23-year-old student working for the Container Corporation of America at the time. Interestingly, this recycling sign is not owned by anyone; it belongs to everyone. Since its creation, many versions of the logo have been made.

Read more about Benefits of Recycling

Facts About the Original Recycle Symbol

Here are some cool facts about the original recycling symbol:

  1. Meaningful Arrows: The three arrows in the recycle symbol stand for ‘reducing,’ ‘reusing,’ and ‘recycling.’ They show how we can make less waste and use things again.
  2. Tree-Like Shape: If you look inside the symbol, it looks like a pine tree. It adds a nice touch to the design.
  3. Möbius Loop Connection: The recycling symbol is like a special kind of loop called a Möbius loop. It represents the idea that things can be used over and over again.
  4. Origins in Paper Recycling: Gary Anderson originally made the symbol for recycled paper. The folded arrows look like folded newspapers, connecting the symbol to its purpose.
  5. Quick Design: Gary Anderson came up with this awesome design in just a day or two. Imagine creating such a famous symbol in such a short time!

The Recycling Symbols

Decode Your Plastics

Recycling symbols on plastic items are linked to codes that identify the type of plastic used. In the USA, there are 7 codes for different types of plastic, while other countries may have more. Items made from different types of plastic will have multiple codes, including codes for other materials used in making the product.

Here’s a table showing the seven codes used by the plastics industry, covering everything you need to know.

No. Symbol Type of Plastic Usage Safety Feature Recycling Purpose
1 plastic type - 1 PETE or PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) PET is commonly found in packaging such as bottles and containers for beverages, food, and personal care products. Additionally, it is used in textiles for producing polyester fabrics and can be found in disposable items like cups and food trays. Mostly Safe For making tote bags, carpets, polar fleece, etc.
2 plastic type - 2 HDPE (High-density Polyethylene) HDPE is widely used in packaging, specifically for bottles containing various liquids, detergents, and cleaning products. Beyond packaging, HDPE is employed in the construction of pipes, fittings, and geomembranes, as well as in automotive parts, toys, and household goods. Mostly Safe For making tote bags, carpet, polar fleece, etc
3 plastic type - 3 V or PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) PVC is utilized in piping and plumbing systems, construction for window frames and floor tiles, and insulation materials. It is also present in unconventional applications such as vinyl records, electrical cables, and synthetic leather. Toxic material For making speed bumps, decks, gutter, paneling, etc
4 LDPE (Low-density Polyethylene) LDPE is commonly found in packaging materials such as plastic bags, shrink wrap, and flexible packaging film. It is also used in household products like squeeze bottles, food storage containers, and lids. Not safe when heated or microwaved For making floor tiles, compost bins, shipping envelop, etc
5 PP (Polypropylene) PP is commonly used in packaging, including food containers, beverage caps, and packaging films. It finds applications in automotive components, household appliances, and consumer goods that are also used in the production of foam trays and disposable cutlery. The Safest Plastic For making bicycle racks, brooms, ice scrapers, etc
6 plastic type - 6 PS (Polystyrene) PS is commonly used in packaging, including food containers, beverage caps, and packaging films. It is also employed in automotive components, household appliances, and various consumer goods. Additionally, it is used in the production of foam trays and disposable cutlery. Harmful and toxic Can’t be recycled easily but sometimes can be used in certain kinds of packing material
7 plastic type - 7 Other plastics (acrylic, nylon, etc.) This category includes various plastics like acrylic, nylon, polycarbonate, PLA, and multilayer combinations of different plastics. These plastics have diverse applications in all the mentioned categories, providing versatility in use. Avoidable It can’t be recycled easily but sometimes can be used in plastic lumber


Paper Recycling Signs

No. Symbol Paper Material Usage
1 20-PAP-recycling-symbol Corrugated Fiberboard Cardboard, often made of corrugated fiberboard, is primarily used in packaging and cardboard boxes for shipping various items. It provides sturdy protection during transportation.
2 21-PAP-recycling-symbol Paperboard (Non-corrugated fiberboard) Paperboard, which is a non-corrugated fiberboard, finds its use in various applications including cereal boxes, snack boxes, and other types of retail packaging. It is sturdy and provides a printable surface for branding and information.
3 22-PAP-recycling-symbol Other Papers Paper, in its various forms, is used extensively in everyday products. Paper straws, paper bags, newspapers, books, and magazines are common.


Metal Recycling Symbols

No. Symbol Metal Material Usage
1 40-FE-recycling-symbol Steel Steel is commonly used in the production of food cans. It provides durability and strength, making it suitable for packaging applications where protection and preservation of contents are crucial.
2 41-ALU-recycling-symbol Aluminum Aluminum is widely utilized in the manufacturing of various products, including food containers, soft drink cans, deodorant packaging, and aluminum foil. Its lightweight and corrosion-resistant properties make it ideal for a range of packaging applications.


Glass Recycling Signs

No. Symbol Glass Material Usage
1 70-GL-recycling-symbol Clear Glass Clear glass is commonly used for food jars and various food containers. It is also utilized in the production of clear glass bottles.
2 71-GL-recycling-symbol Green Glass Green glass is predominantly used in the manufacturing of wine bottles and other beverage containers.
3 72-GL-recycling-symbol Brown Glass  

Brown glass is primarily used for beer bottles due to its ability to protect the contents from light exposure, preserving the flavor.


Battery Recycling Symbols

No. Symbol Battery Material Usage
1 Recycling-symbol-8 Lead-acid Lead-acid batteries are commonly used in automotive applications, such as car batteries.
2 09-recycling-symbol Alkaline Alkaline batteries are used in various household devices like TV remotes, flashlights, and small appliances.
3 Recycling-symbol-12 Lithium Lithium batteries are found in a wide range of portable electronic devices including cell phones, laptops, cameras, and other gadgets.


Organic Recycling Signs

No. Symbol Organic Material Usage
1 50-FOR-recycling-symbol Wood Wood is commonly used in various products such as furniture, chopping boards, brooms, pencils, cocktail sticks, and wooden spoons. It’s also utilized in place mats, construction material, and wine bottle corks.
2 51-FOR-recycling-symbol Cork Cork finds its application in various products including place mats, construction material, and wine bottle corks. It’s valued for its elasticity, insulation properties, and sustainability, making it a preferred choice for certain applications.
3 60-TEX-recycling-symbol Cotton Cotton is a versatile material used in a wide array of products such as T-shirts, cotton buds/swabs, cotton pads, and towels. Its softness, breathability, and absorbency make it a popular choice for clothing and textile applications.
4 61-TEX-recycling-symbol Jute Jute is commonly used in clothing and food sacks due to its durability and eco-friendly properties. It’s a natural fiber that is biodegradable and sustainable, making it suitable for various textile and packaging applications.


Composite Recycling Symbols

No. Symbol Composite Material Usage
1 84-C-PAP-recycling-symbol Paper and cardboard/plastic/aluminum This composite material is commonly found in packaging such as juice boxes, cardboard cans, and cigarette pack liners. It is also prevalent in Tetrapaks, providing a combination of paper, plastic, and aluminum for various liquid containers.
2 87-CSL-recycling-symbol Biodegradable plastic Biodegradable plastic composites, represented by this symbol, are used in laminates, business cards, and flyers/advertising materials. These materials offer an eco-friendly alternative in certain applications, promoting sustainability and reducing environmental impact.
3 90-C-LDPE-recycling-symbol Plastics/Aluminum Composite materials combining plastics and aluminum, as denoted by this symbol, are commonly found in toothpaste tubes and vacuum-packed coffee bags. The blend of plastic and aluminum provides durability and protection for these specific products.


Other Recycling Signs in Use

You might see more recycling signs on different products and packages and they usually include the following:

No. Symbol Symbol Description Usage
1 FSC-recycling-symbol FSC Symbol (Forest Stewardship Council) The FSC symbol represents products sourced from sustainably managed forests. It is an international non-profit organization ensuring paper, card, and wood are responsibly obtained.
2 bpi-compostable-recycling-symbol BPI Symbol The BPI symbol is a mark of compostability recognized by the leading authority on compostable products and packaging in the USA. It signifies products that meet composting standards and can be composted in appropriate facilities.
3 THE-GREEN-DOT-recycling-symbol The “Green Dot” The “Green Dot” symbolizes membership in a European network of industry-funded systems dedicated to recycling and waste management. It indicates a commitment to environmental responsibility through proper recycling practices.
4 home-composting-recycling-symbol Home Composting This symbol is occasionally used to indicate that a material is suitable for composting at home. It signals to consumers that the product can be composted in domestic composting systems, promoting eco-friendly disposal practices.

Final Words

With so many recycling symbols out there, it’s obvious that companies need to be clearer about what can and can’t be recycled, especially in the US. We need better laws to help consumers understand. If we want to deal with all the waste we make every day, we need to focus on using materials again and again. Using clear and helpful recycling signs can help people recycle better.