Understanding packaging labels

Food packaging with recycling symbols

You may have noticed different recycling symbols on packaging. They can be confusing to understand, and they don’t always indicate whether an item can go in your recycling bin.

Here are the common symbols you are likely to see on packaging and what they really mean.

Plastic Identification Code

Plastic identification code symbols

The triangle symbol with a number (1-7) inside is found on most plastic packaging. This is called the Plastic Identification Code. The number inside the triangle identifies the type of plastic an item is made from.

This symbol does not mean an item can be recycled.

Recycling Mobius

Recycling symbol

The thick triangle symbol with flat edges is called the Recycling Mobius. There are two main reasons why packaging or products include this symbol:

  • It can identify whether an item is recyclable, but this doesn’t always mean that item can go in your recycling bin. For example, plastic bags can be recycled but they cannot go in your recycling bin. To recycle plastic bags, they need to be taken to dedicated soft plastics collection bins found at major supermarkets. So although this symbol can tell you if something is recyclable, it doesn’t tell you how to recycle it.
  • The symbol can also be used to identify items made from recycled material. In this instance, the symbol should be accompanied with a percentage value inside the triangle, or a statement advising how much recycled material has been used.

Australasian Recycling Label

Australasian Recycling Label

Packaging typically has multiple components that may need to be recycled or disposed of differently. For example, a cereal box has the cardboard box (which can go in the recycling bin) and a plastic bag (which goes in the landfill bin, or can be taken to supermarkets for recycling).

The Australasian Recycling Label (ARL) tells you what to do with each packaging component, so you can recycle or dispose of it correctly.

  • The text above a symbol identifies the packaging component
  • The symbol tells you how to recycle or dispose of that packaging item:
    • A solid recycling symbol means the Item can go in the recycling (yellow) bin.
    • A recycling symbol with instructions underneath can be recycled, only if you follow the directions given; otherwise it needs to go in the landfill (red) bin.
    • The bin symbol means that the item needs to go in the landfill (red) bin.

Each packaging component is individually assessed - it is not possible for a piece of packaging to have the ARL without an assessment to back up disposal claims.

The ARL is currently a voluntary scheme, so it isn’t included on all products yet. However, the Federal Government has committed to work with businesses to apply the ARL on at least 80% of supermarket products by December 2023.

For more information, go to https://recyclingnearyou.com.au/arl


Redcycle logo

Packaging with the REDcycle logo is referred to as ‘soft plastic’ and can be taken to REDcycle collection bins at supermarkets for specialist recycling. Otherwise, it needs to go in your landfill (red) bin.

For more information about REDcycle, go to https://redcycle.net.au

Certified compostable

Compostable logo

An item with the ‘compostable’ logo means it has been certified for composting within a commercial composting facility.

Currently, only certified compostable bin liners can go in your food and garden waste (green) bin. Other compostable items need to go in your landfill (red) bin.

There are three composting standards an item could be certified to:

  • EN 13432 (European standard) requires 90% biodegradation to occur in a commercial composting unit within 180 days.
  • AS 4736 (Australian standard) meets the same criteria as the European standard but also includes a worm ecotoxicology test (ensuring the composted material won’t cause harm to worms)
  • ASTM 6400 (United States standard) requires 60% biodegradation to occur in a commercial composting unit within 180 days. 

Certified home compostable

Certified Home Compostable logo

An item with the ‘home compostable’ logo has been certified for home composting. It will break down in your compost bin or worm farm, but it may take up to 12 months for the item to completely break down.

If you don’t have a compost bin or worm farm, the item will need to go in your landfill (red) bin.