Regular readers of this blog know that I am fascinated by the various symbols and icons found in our everyday life. In Europe, you will often find the following symbols: ℮ . The first symbol typically follows a weight or volume indication, the second usually contains a number followed by an ‘M’ letter, the last can be found on many types of packaging. What do they mean?
The first symbol is the estimated sign, the symbol is defined by the European Union, and has its own Unicode character (
0x212E). It specifies the precision of the quantity specified on the container. The way this is defined is a bit smarter than just a tolerance, the standard also specifies that the average quantity in a batch of the product cannot be less than the quantity indicated on the packaging. This ensures that producers do not systematically fill the product at the lower end of the error tolerance. Consider a product manufacturer which can produce packages with a 2 ml precision, if the tolerance is 5% and the package is 200 ml, then they could systematically fill the bottles with 192 ml, and always be within the 5% error margin. A very long time ago, I worked in a factory counting machine parts, and this is exactly what happened with packages of screws.
The second symbol is the period after opening symbol, for products that have very long shelf live (say shampoo), it specifies how long the product can be used after opening the container, in months. So if your shampoo bottle has a 12M mark, it can be used one year after opening.
The third symbol is the green dot, it does not mean that the packaging is recycled, or recyclable, just that the producer joined the green dot scheme, which basically means he paid some fees. Depending on the country, packaging with that symbol can be put into a separate trash – this is not the case in Switzerland.