Recycling Terms Explained

We all know that it is important to recycle and many businesses and consumers would like to choose packaging which is recyclable, biodegradable or compostable but do you really know the differences between the terms, and do you know how to recycle different types of packaging? Read our glossary of terms and see our useful links to understand more about recycling, and biodegradable plastics.

Recycling Glossary for Businesses and Consumers

Recyclable Plastic - Quite simply, if the material can be processed and made into something else then it is recyclable. If a recycled product originally came from a non-renewable source like oil, then that can only be a good thing. The view is that it takes much less energy to make a product from recycled plastic rather than from virgin film. There is a good infrastructure in place in the UK for recycling all different types of materials, either through kerbside collections or at local recycling centres.

Biodegradable Plastic - Biodegradable plastics are either made from the traditional petrochemical process, and include additives which make them break down more quickly in the presence of light, oxygen, heat or moisture, or they can be made from sustainable plant materials like corn starch or wood pulp. Biodegradable plastics made from petrochemicals will biodegrade in landfill although they can take longer than if they are exposed to the elements as they are often buried. Light and oxygen are important in the degradation process. 

Compostable Plastic - Compostable plastics or Bioplastics as they are also known, can also be labelled biodegradable but they are made from plant materials which mean when they break down they release their nutrients back into the soil, leaving nothing harmful behind and can therefore be composted. Some bioplastics will break down very quickly - even in a few weeks, however as they are biodegradable, they are difficult to recycle. In addition, not all bioplastics can be composted in a home environment and sometimes need very high temperatures, specific humidity or the presence of certain bacteria or fungi which can only be controlled in industrial composting plants. Similarly they can take a long time to degrade in landfill as they won't have the right conditions. Look out for the Home Compostable symbol which shows the film has been certified for home composting.

Click here to see our new range of Compostable Clear Bags

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Certified by Vincotte, material conforms to EN13432 as suitable for HOME composting

commercial compost

Certified by Vincotte, material conforms to EN13432 as suitable for INDUSTRIAL composting

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from sustainable sources

Cardboard and Paper from sustainable resources.

Many of our cartons and paper bags are sourced from certified sustainable sources, you can buy forest products with confidence that you are helping to ensure our forests are alive for generations to come.

Primary Packaging - The first level of packaging in which a product is sold. Its the packaging that a consumer will take home and dispose of themselves either in general waste or by recycling. eg a wrapper around a packet of biscuits.

Secondary Packaging - This is the packaging which doesn't reach the consumer eg. the cardboard box which the wrapped biscuits are shipped to the retail stores in. 

Energy recovery from waste (EfW)- This is the incineration of rubbish to produce heat energy which is then used to generate electricity or to heat homes.

Packaging Waste Regulations - Refers to the law 'The Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations 2007'.The purpose of this law is to reduce the amount of packaging going to landfill, and increase the amount of packaging that is recycled and reused. Companies can do this themselves or register with a compliance scheme who will do this for them - Valpak is the largest compliance scheme in the UK. Any company which has a UK turnover in excess of £2 million per year, handles more than 50 tonnes of packaging per year, or performs a relevant activity on any packaging handled (this could be a raw material manufacturer, converter,packer/filler, seller or importer) will be affected by this regulation. Discover more about the regulation from Valpak

Recycling Symbols Explained

recycling symbols


Plastic Recycling codes appear on lots of plastic packaging. They identify the type of plastic used to make the item by providing a 'Resin Identification Code'. You will see a 'chasing arrows' symbol surrounding a a number between 1 and 7 that defines the resin used, and allows you to make the right recycling choice.

For more information watch Recycle Now's video below - Understanding Recycling Labels


Understanding Recycling Labels - Transcript

As the number of materials we can recycle increases you may not always be sure what items of packaging you can recycle. So, its good to know there is a simple labelling system in place to help you which you’ll find on the majority of popular and well-known products. The labels are a quick and easy way to find out what you can put in your recycling at home. Let’s have a look at the three main labels. If it says, ‘Widely Recycled’ it’s a safe bet that you can just pop it in your recycling and it will be collected. You’ll find it on things like cardboard boxes, glass bottles and jars, metal tins, cans and aerosols, and plastic bottles. Another label you might often see is the ‘Check Local Recycling’ label which appears on items like plastic pots, tubs and trays. These are things you can probably recycle too. But its worth checking just in case. Take a look at the Recycling Locator on to make sure they can be collected in your area. Lastly things like packets and tubes of crisps, pouches from baby and pet foods, biscuit wrappers and toothpaste tubes might be labelled ‘Not Currently Recycled’ which means they are unlikely to be collected. Look out for the on-pack recycling label on everyday products, it can help make recycling simple, letting you know what can be collected in your area. Remember if you’re no sure you can check the Recycling Locator at

Business recycling questions and answers

Which plastics can be recylcled?

Discover about recycling different types of plastic from the British Plastics Federation

How can I recycle waste packaging from my Business?

Specialist companies make it their business to dispose of your waste responsibly - see an example here


Consumer recycling questions and answers

How do I find out what I can recycle?

See postcode specific information about what you can recycle at home and how with Recycle Now

What if I want to recycle something which can't be taken by my local kerbside collection?

Find out where your nearest recycling centre is depending on the item(s) you'd like to recycle using the Recycle Now free tool

Can all paper be recycled?

No, it can't - read about which paper can and can't be recycled here

 How is plastic recycled?

If you've ever wondered how household plastic is recycled, watch Recycle Now's video below

Plastics - How are they Recycled - Transcript

In the UK we use millions of plastic bottles, tubs and trays a day. These could be recycled into really useful things. Here’s how. Bottles, tubs and trays are separated from other recyclable materials by hand or machine. They are cleaned and sorted by plastic type using clever technology, then sorted by colour – blue, natural, green and mixed, and are shredded, washed, melted and reformed into pellets, which can then be used to make fleeces and footy shirts, as well as toys, chairs and picnic benches. Or, more plastic bottles. To find out what you can recycle in your area, visit