Recycling symbols and OPRLs

What do all those symbols on the back of packaging mean? How do you know if the material is recyclable? And why are there arrows pointing everywhere?!

There are so many different recycling labels cluttering the back of packaging that things can get pretty confusing. This is where the OPRL (on-pack recycling label) scheme comes in. The aim is to standardise recycling labels so that consumers don’t get muddled about what goes in which bin.

What are the OPRLs?

These labels tell you whether or the packaging material is recyclable and, if so, where to recycle it. You may even find labels several on one pack. For example, a pot of yogurt may have one label for the pot, one for the film on top and another for the lid (but don’t worry - the labels tell you which bit of the packaging they refer to).

There are 5 main types of label that you’ll see:

widely recycled label

The widely recycled label is used when 75% or more of councils offer kerbside collections for that type of material.


widely recycled at recycling points label

The widely recycled at recycling points: check locally for kerbside label means that over 75% of councils recycle that type of material.


check locally label

The check local recycling label is used when 20% – 75% of councils offer kerbside collections. The advice is to visit your council's website to see whether or not they'll take that material.


not yet recycled label

The not currently recycled label is used when fewer than 20% of councils offer kerbside collections. If possible, try to avoid buying products with this label.


recycle with carrier bags label

The recycle with carrier bags at larger stores – not at kerbside label is used on certain plastic films. Please just make sure the film is clean before putting it in the recycling.



So far, so self-explanatory. But what about all those other symbols you might see floating around on your plastic packaging? They can be quite misleading, so here’s a quick explainer.

 mobius loop label

The Mobius Loop tells you that the product can potentially be recycled, but it doesn’t tell you how or where. This means that you might not be able to recycle it in your local area.

If there’s a number in the middle, this tells you what percentage of the product comes from recycled materials.

green dot label

The Green Dot is used in some countries to show that the manufacturer has contributed to the cost of recovering and recycling materials.

UK firms contribute towards these costs, but the UK doesn’t have its own symbol to demonstrate this.

resin identification code label

The Resin Identification Code tells you which type of plastic resin the product is made from. It’s so that recycling processors can more easily identify the type of plastic.

tidyman label

The Tidyman symbol is just there to remind you not to drop litter. It doesn’t provide any information about recycling.

seedling label

The Seedling logo indicates that a product is made from bioplastic and is compostable. Don’t put this kind of packaging in the recycling as it could contaminate other plastics. Instead, it should go in your garden waste bin (if your local council accepts bioplastics).

home composting label

The home composting symbol means that you can easily compost the product at home. As with packaging marked with the Seedling, this kind of packaging shouldn’t go in your recycling bin.


Don’t forget, the types of plastic that you can recycle will vary depending on where you live. Check your local council’s website to see what it allows in its kerbside collections. If you’re not sure where to find your local council’s website, you can enter your postcode here and it’ll give you a link to the right place.

And if possible, try to reduce your plastic use so you don’t even have to recycle much waste. If you need inspiration, take a look at the products available in the What Plastic store.

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