How to decode packaging symbols

Written by mary pletcher
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How to decode packaging symbols
The number inside this symbol on plastic packaging correlates to the type of resin in the plastic. (a blue recycle symbol image by wayne ruston from

Consumer products come with many different symbols and logos on their packaging. Among those symbols is a common set frequently used on electronic products to signify the product meets various government standards or carries a potential hazard. Plastic packaging, ranging from shampoo bottles to milk jugs to eggshell cartons, come with a recycling symbol which specifies the types of resin in the plastic. Decoding the symbols on electronics allows you to determine safety information about that product. Decoding plastic recycling symbols helps you know if the packaging can be recycled.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Examine the symbol and see if the symbol contains letters. The letters CE mean that the product conforms to the safety regulations of the European Union, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. The letters FCC mean the product does not interfere with Federal Communications Commission-restricted radio spectrum bands and that it does not emit unsafe radio frequency energy. The letters VCI inside two boxes is the symbol of the Voluntary Control Council for Interference by Information Technology Equipment, a Japanese organisation, and this symbol on packaging means the radiation the electronic emits will not interfere with television or radio. The letters PB inside a "No" symbol indicate the electronic object is free of lead.

  2. 2

    Check and see if any of the letters in the symbol are backwards. The reversed letter R followed by a U indicates that an individual product part meets the Underwriters Laboratories Recognized Component standards for safety. UL, unreversed, is the symbol that organisation uses when they certify the entire product.

  3. 3

    Look for signs in the symbols. An exclamation mark inside a triangle is a recognised safety sign from the International Organization for Standardization indicating danger. A check mark inside a dark circle is given by Australia and New Zealand to products that meet their countries' standards for electromagnetic radiation. A jagged arrow pointing downward inside a triangle indicates a possible electrocution hazard.

  1. 1

    Look for the number in the centre of the triangle on your plastic packaging. The symbol should be easy to find, often stamped into the bottom of the packaging.

  2. 2

    Match the number to your city's plastic recycling guidelines. Most United States cities typically only recycle PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate, symbol 1) and HDPE (High density Polyethylene, symbol 2).

  3. 3

    Recycle the plastic if permitted by your city's recycling guidelines. Otherwise, dispose of it in the trash.

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