Recycling has become something of a minefield in recent years – what you can recycle in one place, won’t be collected in others.

Campaigners have long been calling for a unified recycling system across the UK, claiming our current ‘postcode lottery on recycling’ – where local authorities differ on the types of waste they collect, is ineffectual and confusing for consumers.

A BBC analysis revealed 39 different sets of rules for what can be put in plastic recycling collections. Whilst there are new plans on how plastic will be recycled in England being put forward by the government, in the rest of the UK, the strategy for recycling is a devolved issue.

It’s not just the collection system that’s baffling, but the logos – hands up if you actually know what they mean? For those of you who are feeling confused, here’s our a handy guide to recycling logos and what they mean. 

There are 49 types of plastics and hundreds of different varieties. In order to make identifying them a bit easier, the industry has a standard marking code to help you work out what’s what. Each plastic item has a small triangle, numbered 1-7, on the bottom. Not all of them can be recycled. 

A simple guide to recycling symbols 

PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)  

PET is the clear plastic most often used to make single-use bottles, plastic pint glasses, salad and deli boxes. It is one of the easier plastics to recycle.  

HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) 

This is the plastic typically used for milk, shampoo and cleaning product bottles. It is also easy to recycleespecially milk bottlesif there is a market for recycled content.  

(Polyvinyl Chloride)

PVC is used for toys, window frames and doors, PVC foam and clothes. PVC windows and frames can be recycled. 

LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)  

This is used for plastic bags, bread bags and ring pulls. Plastic bags and bread bags can be recycled through single-stream collections at supermarkets or through Terracycle. 

PP (Polypropylene) 

Margarine tubs, microwaveable meal trays, reusable plastic glasses and coffee cups. Polypropylene is not recyclable through domestic collections but can be reused commercially. Cosmetics company Lush, for example, recycles its black PP pots back into black pots.  

PS (Polystyrene) 

Expanded polystyrene is used for hot cups, burger boxes and packaging materialsSolid polystyrene is used for hard plastic glasses, test tubes, Petri dishes, stirrers, cutlery and yoghurt pots. There are no recycling options for expanded polystyrene and limited options for solid polystyrene depending on the product. 


The remaining 43 plastic types include polycarbonate (hard plastic glasses), plastic wrappers, bio-plastics and compostable plastics. None of these has any recycling potential.  

Recycling plastic is the second best option below refusing to use single-use plastic in the first place. To find out why read our blog on recycling.