Recycling Symbol Rosetta Stone

Part of the recycling rosetta

While recycling exists in an institutional form in many countries, what is recycled and how tends to change from country to country.

To help this process, many products are annotated with various symbol that should help people sort stuff for recycling. For instance, many yogurts in Switzerland bear three symbols, one for the cardboard support structure, one for the aluminium lid, and one for the plastic pot.

The problem, of course, is that there is not one set of symbols, as each country / organisation typically defines its own. There is one global standard, but it is really dry, as it consists of the recycling symbol with a number, and two or three letters to identity the type of material, as such, they are pretty dry and easy to mix up. Globalisation being what it is, there is a good chance you end with products with recycling symbols from another area, so knowing what matches what is actually useful.

I built a small table with the various recycling symbols I know of, I called this the recycling rosetta. I only did the easy categories: glass, aluminium, steel, cardboard and paper. These are pretty general materials and commonly used for recycling purposes everywhere and are actually recycled.

For each of these categories, I put the common symbol, the typical European one, the Swiss one, the Italian one, the Japanese one and the Korean one. In two cases (glass and steel) I found a US recycling logo on the web, but I must admit I never noticed them in the wild – whereas the Korean ones are sometimes on packaging. I also added the ones used by Migros (the largest retail shop in Switzerland), as these tend to be very commonly understood – strangely, they have the recycling arrows in the reverse direction from everyone else.

I will try to update the table with more recycling categories.

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