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The quick guide to recycling symbols

Table of contents

In the last few posts we have discussed recycling and waste management. While researching the subject, we realized that recycling potential of each material can be easily identified with the industry standard symbols.
So we decided to put together a quick reference guide for these symbols

  1. The classic , “Can be Recycled”

recyclabe logo
This is the original classic symbol created in 1970 by gary anderson,now found commonly on paper,plastics etc. This indicates that the material can be recycled.
2. Already Recycled
recycled logo precise recycled % logo
When the 3 curved arrows are placed inside the circle it means that some part of the material is made from recycled sources. If the precise percentage of recycled sources is known, like say 20%, that can also be indicated inside the logo
3. Plastics Resin Identification Codes
Have you seen the recycling like symbol with a number inside, at the bottom of a shampoo bottle or water bottle? That is the resin identification code, developed to help recyclers identify and sort plastics. This is an internationally accepted code. The resin identification code has 3 parts to it
HDPE code logo

  • The 3 arrow symbol
  • A number inside to identify the type of plastic
  • The short code for the type of plastic (optional)

Along with the code numbers, in the table below, is the symbolic representation of the recycling risk level . The recycling  risk levels are
recycling risk level
resin identification codes
Note : The recycling risk levels are based on our research and are not standard symbols
4. Already recycled plastics

In the case of plastics made from recycled sources, the letter “r” is added in front of the name of the plastic  like R-HDPE. The same number codes as above are used.
So a package made with recycled HDPE would look like
recycled HDPE
Why are these codes important?
Some types of plastic like HDPE (code # 2) have high recyclability while others like PVC (code   # 3) have such a toxic lifecycle that most of the world’s leading companies have eliminated PVC from their packaging. So the responsible consumer can choose a better, safer grade of plastic merely by looking at the resin identification number.
In the case of other materials like paper, the symbols make it easy to identify virgin paper from recycled paper. The aware consumer can choose recycled paper every time the choice is available.
Re-Use or Recycle?
The next time you purchase a mineral water bottle, note that the disposal instructions are “to crush after use”.  This means that it can be recycled but not reused.
The resin code can only identify the type of plastic and not its grade or quality. The thickness of the plastic material is important in determining whether it can be re-used or re-cycled.
When a very thin plastic container is re-used, there is a possibility that it may release trace amounts of harmful chemicals into its contents. Ergo, crush after use.
As the plastic grade gets thinner, it also becomes more expensive to recycle. As a result many Indian state governments have banned plastic bags than are thinner than 20 microns.
While reuse and recycle are noble pursuits, the most effective answer always lies at source. i.e. reduce consumption.

srinivas krishnaswamy

srinivas krishnaswamy

Srinivas is Krya's Co-Founder. He brings in a unique perspective to Krya with his dual Masters in Physics & Management. At Krya, Srinivas is motivated by the challenges of crafting the company's DNA - products that delight consumers, manufacturing excellence, a winning team and sustainable profitable growth. He is deeply committed to defining the first principles of Dharmic Entrepreneurship in order to build a world class organisation rooted in Indian Knowledge Systems.

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  1. […] symbols, all based on the classic 3-arrow logo.  (For more on the symbols, refer to our earlier post on […]

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