What Are the Meanings of the Recycling Symbols?

Written by neal litherland
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What Are the Meanings of the Recycling Symbols?
Recycling symbols are meant to convey simple information quickly. (Sean Murphy/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Perhaps the easiest way to live green is to use recycled products and to recycle everything that you can in your day-to-day life. However, it does help if you can properly identify the symbols associated with recycling and the recycled content of the products you're paying your money for.

Recyclable Symbol

When an item is stamped with certain symbols it means that item can be recycled. The most common symbol is a triangle or circle that's made up of three arrows, each leading to the next. These arrows may be a variety of colours. You may also see, particularly for glass, a single, straight line that bends into an arrow that goes up. This also means that the product can be recycled.

Recycled Symbol

The recycled symbol looks almost the same as the triple-arrow recyclable symbol. The difference is that when content is recycled the three arrows are surrounded by a circle that marks a border around the three arrows. This border might be the only difference, but it means that the product contains previously recycled content. It may actually be next to the symbols that states it is also recyclable.


Often, in the centre of the recycled content symbol, you will see a percentage. This percentage, when it appears, lets you know just how much of what you're buying is recycled from previous materials. For those who want to purchase really green products, the biggest percentage is always the best choice.

Plastic Number

On the bottom of recyclable plastic there is a number in the centre of the triple-arrow symbol. These numbers range from 1 to 4, and they determine the sort of plastic that the item is made of for sorting purposes. Once the plastic item is recycled, the facility separates the plastic based on number so the numbers and the types of plastic don't mix with each other.

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