How to Read a Simple Recycle Label

How to Read a Simple Recycle Label

Recycling only works when it is done right. The recycle label is simple, and if you know how to read it, you can be a responsible recycler.

Recycling labels aren’t yet a standard on every recyclable item, but they are becoming more and more popular. When you do find a recycle label on something, it’s important to know how to read it. And trust me, it isn’t as complicated as those laundry labels in clothing!

Originally Published On: January 8, 2019

Last Updated On: June 18, 2020

The Recycle Label

The label currently used most widely is the How2Recycle label. It’s a simple, easy to read label that tells the consumer exactly what parts of the product can be recycled, and how to prepare it. There are four parts to the label: preparation, location, type, and parts. 

How to Read a Simple Recycle Label


Preparing your materials for recycling is an important part of the process. When items get sent to recycle facilities that are contaminated with food or other materials, it will often make entire loads of recycling unusable. Almost anything that goes in your curbside recycling bin needs to be cleaned.

The top portion of the recycle label describes what needs to be done. For example, some will say to rinse and replace the lid, others may say to remove the label. For the most part, they are usually self-explanatory.

How to Read a Simple Recycle Label


There are four options for the location section on the recycle label. Items can be listed as widely recycled, limited recycling, not yet recycled, or store drop-off. 

But remember, some of this will depend on where you live. Most plastic bags say “store drop-off” on them, but my recycling center will accept all numbers of plastic so I can put them curbside. As suggested in my post about how recycling works, it’s best to check your waste management’s website or contact them to verify exactly what you can and can’t recycle in your bin. 

In general, widely recycled means you can put it in your curbside pickup. Limited recycling means that it depends on where you live, and you need to find out if your community accepts the material. Not yet recycled means exactly what it says, this product can’t be recycled and needs to be thrown in the trash (or better reused or upcycled first). And store drop-off items must be taken to participating stores (usually plastic bags). 

How to Read a Simple Recycle Label


Another reason it helps to find out what you can recycle in your community is knowing the type of material. The third section on the label tells you what materials the product is made of. It can be plastic, paper, metal, coated paper, glass, or multi-layer. Coated paper and multi-layer are two that are not as widely accepted as the others. But, the plastic number will also determine if it’s accepted in your community.

How to Read a Simple Recycle Label


The final section of the recycle label lists the parts of the package that the label is describing. Since many products come with multiple types of materials (think about a cereal box made of cardboard with a plastic liner bag), the label will indicate the part. 

How to Read a Simple Recycle Label

Multi-Component Labels

On some products, you may find a label with multiple parts. When you see these labels, make sure to pay attention to each individual part. The recycle labels, when read from left to right, will be in order from the outside in. 

Again, using the cereal box as an example, it will probably have two components. The left would be the cardboard box since that’s the first thing you touch. Then the one on the right would be the bag inside. 

Different parts of the product will have their own set of instructions and recycling limitations, so make sure you pay attention. 

How to Read a Simple Recycle Label

Your Turn

Armed with this knowledge on reading the recycle label, what will you do now? Does this help you have a better grasp on what can be recycled? 

Please make sure you are only putting items in your curbside bin that can be taken. And follow the instructions on the label. They are there to make sure that as many products as possible are recycled. 


If you are looking for more information about the recycle label here, you can go to and read about their initiative. They also have lists of companies that participate with their label and are doing their part to produce sustainable packaging.

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17 thoughts on “How to Read a Simple Recycle Label”

  1. Totally pinning this. I think a lot of us don’t really pay attention to the labels and assume what’s recyclable and what’s not. Thanks for the info!

  2. I love that you shared this! not many people talk about recycling nowadays or actually do it! Totally sharing with my friends who want to start recycling more!

  3. Wow, this honestly shows me how little I’ve been paying attention. I still remember the old number system on the recycling label and that always made it difficult. This helped me so much. Awesome post!

  4. I’m totally going to save this!!! I have always cleaned my recyclables before putting them in the recycling bin and paid attention to the labels but I know a ton of people who don’t (my husband). I’m going to share this if you don’t mind! 😊

  5. We’ve been recycling for such a long time now that it’s become second nature. This labelling looks pretty detailed – I don’t think we get that much info on the labels over in the UK (or maybe I just haven’t noticed!).

  6. I always learn something new in your post, Stephanie. I am so embarrassed to say that I never paid great attention to recycle label. After today, I will remediate.

  7. This is great information for those who haven’t quite gotten on the recycling bandwagon. Recycling is the law in my area, and the Sanitation Dept provides a leaflet every year to homeowners as a reminder for us all.

  8. This is wonderful info! I read that there is a huge amount of recyclables that cannot be used because they are not disposed of correctly. Not sure if it is true, but this is a great guide!

  9. We have similar labels in Japan. It is very important to read them as we need to know what kind if trash to sort them in. Did you know my city has like 10 different trash sorts?

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