Recycling Demystified

What do all the symbols mean?


Most domestic plastics can be recycled without a problem. As long as they’ve been thoroughly washed, your empty milk container or old water bottle is fine to be recycled.

However, for the recycling process to be a success, plastic types must not be mixed. And unfortunately, it’s quite tricky to tell one from the other. 

Certain symbols on certain plastic products identify which type of plastic it is:

Confusingly, symbols 1 to 7 look like the recycling symbol, but instead of meaning that the material can be recycled, they identify the type of plastic the product is made from.

Practically everything made with plastic should be marked with a code:

Types 1 and 2 are widely accepted and are usually in container form, whereas type 4 is what plastic bags are made from, which is sometimes (but not always) accepted. 

Type 7 is a mixed plastic compound, like acrylic, and has little to no recycling value.


Glass is 100% recyclable, so you don’t need to worry about confusing symbols here. Just make sure that your jam jar is thoroughly washed out before you pop it in the recycling, or better yet, wash it out and reuse it for storing yummy homemade preserves.

But what about coloured glass?

Mostly, you can recycle all glass bottles and jars in the same way, regardless of colour. This is known as single-stream recycling. However, some recycling companies will request that you separate your glass into clear, brown, green and blue glass. 

Can the label on jars go into the recycling?

Yes. The recycling programme will allow for labels, but some do ask that lids and rings are removed before recycling – again, check with your agency or council.

Window glass, ceramics, light bulbs, ovenware and automotive glass cannot be recycled via domestic glass recycling, as such materials have to be treated differently due to their different melting temperature.

So, how do you recycle light bulbs?

Well, certain light bulbs – such as fluorescent tubes and CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights) – must be collected, or disposed of, separately to your usual recycling or rubbish. This is because they contain mercury, which could be dangerous if it leaks out of the bulb.

Other than that, light bulbs cannot be recycled, unless the individual manufacturer runs a scheme. However, light bulbs that are not fluorescent can be disposed of with other domestic waste.


Firstly, you should be aware of whether you’ll need to separate all of your recyclable materials or whether you can mix them – for example, putting glass and plastic into the same bin. Check your local recycling guidelines, or those of the facility your contractor delivers to, to be sure.

Regardless of this, you always need to rinse out food packaging and drinks bottles before throwing them away. Recycling facilities simply can not recycle plastic packaging that has food smudged into it – cleanliness is crucial!

Likewise, you should only recycle clean paper. Ink and pencil markings are fine, of course, but if a piece of paper is grease-stained or has been used to wipe up food, it’s no longer recyclable and should go into general waste. It can always go into the compost for the garden if it isn’t dyed with harmful chemicals too.

For even more cost and ecological benefits, try to reduce the amount of waste your home in the first place. Encourage everyone to ditch single-use plastics and avoid printing anything to cut down on CO2 emissions as it decomposes.