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Compostable & Recycling Symbols Explained | 2021 Guide to UK Packaging

Compostable & Recycling Symbols Explained | 2021 Guide to UK Packaging

The conversation surrounding plastic waste has picked up over the last few years, as consumers and environmental groups exert pressure on governments and corporations to make changes to their packaging use. However, we are still a long way from being plastic free, despite many of the changes that have been made.

The question is, are the alternatives in the market any better? In most cases the answer is yes, but to reap the full benefits, they must be disposed of correctly. To ensure this happens, it is important to have an understanding of all the relevant packaging symbols.

Fortunately, alongside the innovations with packaging, the waste infrastructure in the UK is also improving. As composting is a waste recovery process (the compost can be used to fertilise soil), the idea of a closed loop packaging solution is edging ever closer.

Understanding the Packaging & Recycling Symbols

Below you will find explanations for each of the packaging symbols and how you should dispose of them. If you own a cafe or restaurant, we recommend putting up this infographic to ensure items are disposed of properly.

How to dispose sustainably

1) The Home Compostable Symbol Explained:

Home compostable is the newest type of packaging to the market and is not yet governed by an EU standard as other packaging is. However, the home compostable approval, currently handed out by TUV Austria (formerly Vincotte), is based upon a few different EU standards.

The Home compostable label means that left in a garden compost heap, the item will degrade. 

The testing criteria for this is as follows: 

The product must biodegrade by at least 90% of its mass. The test is  undertaken at temperatures between 20-30°C for a maximum of 12 months.*

Home Compost.                Home Composting


How should I dispose of Home Compostable items? 

 Where you can, home compostable items should be disposed of into a home compost bin or heap. Although they can be composted commercially, composting at home reduces the emissions associated with kerbside collection and industrial composting. 

Check your local council website to see if they do free or reduced price composting items. Some home compostable items may be recyclable.

Where can I get Home Compostable products? 

Element Packaging supplies home compostable products to its customers, click here to find out more.

If you’d like to know which of your favourite food outlets use home compostable products, then click here.

2) The Compostable Symbol Explained:

Compostable products are governed by the EU regulation EN 13432. To meet these requirements the product must degrade when placed in an industrial composting facility. 

So how does this differ to the Home Compostable above? Well home compostable was an item that was tested under 20 - 30 degree heat, something perfectly achievable in a home compost heap. 

However, to achieve the compostable mark, the product must biodegrade by at least 90% of the product mass under a temperature of  58°C (+/- 2°C) within 6 months.*



Industrial Composting.           Industrial Composting



How should I dispose of Compostable items? 

Where you can, compostable products should be given to local authorities garden waste collection, this way it is taken for industrial compost. Should this not be available, the compostable cup should go into the general waste bin. From here, it can biodegrade at landfill. Compostable items should never go into the recycling bin.*

Where can I get Compostable products? 

Element Packaging supplies Compostable products throughout the UK. Take a look at our range here.


3) Paper & Cardboard Packaging Symbols Explained:

Paper & cardboard is widely used, but can we always recycle? Some cardboard or paper items (such as cups), are often lined with a form of plastic. Because of this, we should pay attention to the symbols on the packaging. We explain the different symbols below:

FSC - The Forest Stewardship Council logo indicates that the wood used in the products comes from well managed forests independently certified in accordance with the rules of the FSC.

FSC Symbol

4) Plastic Packaging Symbols Explained:

Symbol & Type

Common Use


Polyethylene Terephthalate

PET Symbol

PET is a type of plastic that you will often see on plastic bottles. 

Often recyclable - Check your local council guidelines.

High-density polyethylene

HDPE Symbol

This is another of the more common plastic. Often used for milk bottles as well as toys, kitchenware and cable insulation.

Polyvinyl chloride

PVC Symbol

Used for hard plastics such as window frames, doors and footwear. It is not recyclable.

NOT Often recyclable - Check your local council guidelines.Recyclable 

Low Density Polyethylene

LDPE Symbol

Commonly used for squeezy bottles and packaging films.  NOT Recyclable, often reusable.


PP Symbol
Often used for products such as bottle tops, food containers and packing tape.

Often recyclable - Check your local council guidelines.


PS Symbol

Often used for takeaway food and protective packaging.  NOT Recyclable


Other Symbols

Other types of plastic undefined in previous groups. Usually NOT Recyclable

5) Recycling and Other Symbols Explained:



The Green Dot

Green Dot Symbol
The Green dot does NOT indicate the product is recyclable

This symbol is used widely throughout the EU but does NOT mean the product is recyclable. This indicated the producer has made a financial contribution toward the recycling and recovery of packaging in Europe.

Recycling Symbol UK**

Recycling Symbol

This symbol is placed on packaging when over 75% of local authorities recycle this packaging. You should, where possible, recycle items with this symbol.

Rinse & Recycle Symbol **

Rinse & Recycling Symbol

The ‘Rinse & Recycle’ symbol indicates that you should rinse this product before recycling it. Should you not rinse the product, it could contaminate other items in the recycling and make them un-recyclable. 

Rinse | Lid on Symbol **

Rinse & Lid On Recycling Symbol

The ‘Rinse | Lid On’ symbol indicates that the items can be recycled, but should be rinsed first. It also stipulates that the lid should be left on the item so they can be recycled together.

Recycle/Don’t Recycle Symbol**

Recycle/Don’t Recycle Symbol

This symbol is used on packaging when some parts may be recyclable and some aren’t. Certain items may have to be removed before recycling. 

Mobius Loop

Mobius Symbol

The Mobius Loop is one of the most widely used recycling symbols.This indicates that an object is capable of being recycled. It does not mean that the object has been recycled or will be accepted in all recycling collection systems.

Sometimes this symbol is used with a percentage figure in the middle to explain that the packaging contains % of recycled material.


We all have a responsibility to reduce our consumption of non recyclable plastic, and where we can, use home compostable products. Compostable products are generally made from plants, so use less CO2 to produce.

Please make use of our infographics to help people understand how to dispose of their single use items. 

Other Packaging FAQ’s:

What symbols mean you can recycle? 

The most common recycling symbol is the Mobius Loop. Although recycling symbols can vary depending on the area you live & the type of packaging. Read the recycling section of this article for more information.

What are the 7 plastic recycling symbols?

There are many types of plastic that we use in our everyday lives. Plastic waste is in the spotlight at the moment due the damage it can cause to the environment. However, if we recycle our plastics properly, we could largely reduce this problem. Take a look at the 7 plastic recycling symbols above

What does biodegradable mean? 

An item capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms and thereby avoiding pollution.

What does compostable mean? 

Compostable products are capable of disintegrating into natural elements like soil, leaving no toxicity. Composting may occur in a commercial composting facility or naturally. 

What does disintegration mean?

Disintegration is the process of an object falling into small pieces, losing it’s cohesion or strength.



* Association of organics recycling 

** Recycle Now

*** Symbols from TUV Austria

**** Straight - The National Home Composting Framework 


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