SUSTAINABLE PACKAGING: Why should we be concerned about packaging?

The widespread growth in packaging has been seen as an environmental concern and, at the same time, a necessity. The containers your detergents and cleaning products come in, for example, are almost as essential as the products themselves.

Packaging prevents the product from being spoilt by the environment, and vice versa. They provide a way of identifying what is inside (try telling detergents apart without the package). And packaging labels carry vital information such as ingredient lists, safety and dosage advice.

The amount of packaging is increasing in Europe for a variety of reasons, such as the trend towards smaller household sizes. More households equals more packages, and in France, for example, the number of single-person households has grown by 130 per cent between 1970 and 2000, compared to an average population growth rate of 20 per cent. In Great Britain, meanwhile, 40 per cent of households have become single occupancy.

With packaging here to stay, and on the rise, there is an ever-greater need to make sure it is produced, reused, recycled and disposed of in a way that minimizes the impact on the environment.
Read on to find out how packaging affects the environment, what P&G is doing to address this and what you can do to help.
  • Packaging and the environment

    More packaging means more waste, which is hardly good for the environment. Europeans produce, on average, 172 kilos of packaging per capita a year (2002 figures) and the level is up 10 per cent on 1997.

    But we can't simply do away with packaging. If products such as detergents were not properly packed and sealed, there would be a greater chance of them leaking into the environment, particularly during distribution, storage and transportation.

    There would also be a greater likelihood of the products spoiling, so they could not be used and would go to waste. (With foodstuffs the problem is particularly acute; a significant proportion of the food in developing countries goes off before it can be eaten, because of inadequate packaging.)

    Since packaging usually contains dosage and usage instructions, there would be more likelihood of overdosing. (Similarly, dosing too little could lead to the need for re-washing, which is not ideal for the environment either.)

    The issue, then, is not how to get rid of packaging, but how to make sure that the packaging there is has as little impact on the environment as possible and can be reused or recycled as much as possible.

    This is an issue that concerns not just companies but also the European Union and its Member States.

    • What is the impact of packaging?

      For the average consumer, getting rid of an old box or bottle is as easy as throwing it in the bin. Thanks to the wonders of modern society, once your rubbish gets picked up, it apparently disappears forever.

      It is tempting to imagine there is a black hole somewhere that swallows it all up. The reality is a bit more messy, though.

      Every item you throw away in the course of your life (and every item everyone else throws away, for that matter, making for millions of tonnes of rubbish a year) has to end up somewhere. When it comes to packaging, up to 38 per cent is disposed of, mostly in landfill.

      In fact, since 1997 only some countries, such as Denmark and Austria, have reduced their per capita generation of packaging waste. In other European countries, the quantities have increased. This increases the environmental burden for a number of reasons, such as:

      • Landfill sites have historically been subject to controversy in local communities because they have been associated with environmental pollution, noise and smell, although more modern landfills are less prone to these problems.
      • Biological degradation processes in landfill sites can lead to the production of large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas, which (except in modern landfills when it is recovered and used for energy generation) can be released into the atmosphere.
      • The transportation and dumping of materials in landfill consumes energy and leads to the loss of raw materials.

      One reason why the amount of waste is growing across Europe is because of the growth of smaller-size households, which leads to higher per capita consumption. A single-person household, for example, produces, on average, around 11 kilos of waste a week. If this same person lived in a four-person household then he or she would produce an average of just four kilos of waste.

      Of this waste, about a quarter is packaging. But having less packaging is not necessarily better for the environment, as packages fulfil important functions such as isolating a product from the environment so it does not spoil. That is why, according to the Packaging Recovery Organisation Europe (see Pro-Europe website: PRO Europe): "A more effective way of preventing waste includes actions aimed at protecting products, optimizing packaging and returning raw materials and energy to the production process."

    • Why a European approach to packaging is needed?

      The problem of waste packaging goes much further than your local landfill site. Dealing with the issue is such a big problem that it requires coordination on a European and even global scale.

      Much of the research done on trying to improve the sustainability of packaging concerns the financial costs associated with materials and production. Ultimately, using fewer raw materials and less energy in the production of packaging is good for the environment and also for the manufacturer's bottom line.

      Companies such as P&G have long understood the link between environmental performance and the wise use of energy and natural resources; in fact this is enshrined in P&G's original Environmental Quality Policy and in P&G’s recently announced sustainability vision and 2020 goals (

      In Europe, meanwhile, a harmonized, pan-European regulatory framework is in place, mainly via the European Commission Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste. This essentially aims to harmonize national measures concerning the management of packaging and packaging waste in order to prevent or reduce their impact, thus providing a high level of environmental protection, and to avoid obstacles to trade in the European market.It contains provisions on the prevention, reuse, recovery and recycling of packaging so all of it should, for example:

      • Have weight and volume minimized to the amount needed for safety and acceptance of the packed product.
      • Be suitable for material recycling, energy recovery or composting, or reuse if intended.
      • Be manufactured in a way which ensures any noxious or hazardous constituents should have minimum impact on the environment.


      The European Union also has targets for the recovery and recycling of packaging waste. By 2009, the European Union aimed to recover at least 60 per cent of packaging waste, and recycle a minimum of 55 per cent. For updates, see Pro-Europe website: PRO Europe.

      In order to achieve this, each country in Europe has its own organization dedicated to managing packaging waste.

    • Who manages packaging waste in Europe?

      Waste management is coordinated by a number of organisations across Europe. These are the main ones: Europe: Packaging Recovery Organisation Europe s.p.r.l. (PRO Europe) is the umbrella organization for European packaging and packaging waste recovery and recycling (or 'Green Dot') schemes.

      Austria: Altstoff Recycling Austria AG and eight recycling companies form the ARA System in cooperation with regional waste collection companies.

      Belgium: FOST Plus is a government approved non profit-making organization born of a voluntary action by the private sector. See the case study on FOST Plus.

      Bulgaria: ECOPACK BULGARIA JSC is a non-profit company established in February 2004 by 18 leading Bulgarian and international companies

      Cyprus: Green Dot (Cyprus) was established as a non-profit company to recover and recycle packaging materials in the local market.

      Croatia: Eko-Ozra was founded in order to take responsibility for packaging put on the Croatian market by its founders/members.

      Czech Republic: EKO-KOM was created by the industry to handle recovery of both household and business-to-business packaging.

      Estonia: The Estonian Recovery Organization is a non-profit organization created to collect and recover packaging waste.

      Finland: The Environmental Register of Packaging is a non-profit firm which works in conjunction with producer organizations as governed by the Finnish Waste Act.

      France: Eco-Emballages provides financial and technical support to local authorities which collect household packaging waste.

      Germany: Manufacturers and distributors of packaging are obliged to take back and recycle these through Gruener Punkt.

      Greece: HERRCO provides the recovery and recycling of packaging waste from household, commercial and industrial sources.

      Hungary: ÖKO-Pannon co-ordinates waste management from the output of packers and fillers through to collection and recycling activities.

      Iceland: The Icelandic Recycling Fund (Úrvinnslusjóður) is in charge of creating conducive economic conditions for reuse and recovery.

      Ireland: Repak assumes responsibility on behalf of its members for the recovery and recycling of packaging waste.

      Latvia: Latvijas Zalais Punkts was established in January 2000, by six companies of the packaging industry.

      Lithuania: Zaliasis taskas was founded to develop the system for selective collection of household packaging waste.

      Luxembourg: Valorlux takes care of the promotion, coordination and financial support of the collection, sorting and recycling of household packaging.

      Malta: GreenPak Ltd was established in 2004 to provide a service to producers, importers and traders.

      Netherlands: The Nedvang organization organizes the Dutch Packaging and Packaging Waste activities.

      Norway: Grønt Punkt Norge AS joined the group of Green Dot organizations in Europe in January 2000.

      Poland: Rekopol Organizacja Odzysku S.A. is the first recovery organization in Poland in the field of packaging waste.

      Portugal: Sociedade Ponto Verde is licensed to run the VERDORECA recovery system and manage industrial and commercial packaging waste.

      Romania: ECO - ROM AMBALAJE S.A. is a non-profit organization implementing the Green Dot system.

      Slovakia: Envipak takes responsibility for meeting recycling and recovery targets for all types of packaging waste.

      Slovenia: Slopak takes responsibility for meeting recycling and recovery targets and collecting, sorting and recycling of all types of packaging waste.

      Spain: ECOEMBES was founded by Spanish trade and industry to run systems created for selective collection of household packaging waste.

      Sweden: Förpackningsinsamlingen (The Swedish Packaging Collection Organization) was established to create an ecologically sound and sustainable society for the future.

      UK: Doesn't operate a Green Dot Scheme along the lines of European counterparts. Management of the trademark is by Valpak.

  • How P&G is improving the sustainability profile of its packaging

    P&G is dedicated to continuously reducing the impact of its packaging on the environment - while still ensuring you get the maximum delight out of P&G products. That is why P&G does not wait to be told what to do by legislation.

    P&G has a proactive approach to meeting and exceeding consumer, stakeholder and regulatory requirements on packaging materials. And it works with its partners in the industry to make sure P&G has set targets to maximize the amount of recycled materials in its packaging joint efforts can reduce environmental impact.

    P&G's focus is on reducing the amount of material used in its packaging, using materials which are compatible with recycling streams and maximizing the use of recycled carton. P&G also tries to use new materials to reduce the environmental impact of its packages.

    Like P&G products and their ingredients, P&G packaging is subjected to thorough environmental impact assessments. P&G is involved in many government and policy initiatives to reduce the impact of packaging, such as the Waste & Resources Action Programme in the UK.

    • P&G's policy on packaging and sustainability

      Considering that P&G products are purchased 30 million times a day and used billion of times a day, it has a huge responsibility in ensuring the packaging is sustainable.

      Through research and innovation, P&G aims to develop packs that use a minimal amount of energy and raw materials, and are designed to be as ecologically friendly as possible. P&G has to balance these considerations against the needs of consumers and society, of course. Its packaging has to be affordable and attractive, or nobody would buy the product - and its efforts would be wasted.

      As a result, many of P&G's sustainable innovations are relatively simple ones that are easy to understand, such as promoting refill packs or using industry-backed labelling for recyclable products. (read more)

      Elsewhere P&G has tried to make it easier for you to be more environmentally responsible through innovations such as user-friendly dosing devices, tablets or liquitabs which ensure you will always use the right amount of product in your wash. These efforts are ongoing and over time have enabled P&G to greatly reduce the environmental impact of its packaging. By creating more compact products, for example, P&G has been able to cut down the size of its packages.

      Similarly, P&G has developed sophisticated computer modelling and simulation programs to optimize the amount of material needed for its bottles and has made these available to external organizations. And P&G has an outstanding track record in the way materials are recycled during the manufacturing process.

      Finally, some of P&G's products reduce packaging purely because of their superior performance. Fairy lasts longer per bottle than any other washing up liquid on the market, so if everyone switched to Fairy, many fewer bottles would be bought and thrown away. In fact, if everyone in the UK used Fairy, for example, the number of bottles transported and used would drop by about 30 million a year. While Fairy bottles are recyclable, there has been a reduction of more than 10 per cent in the amount of plastic used in Fairy bottles across all sizes since 2000.

      This commitment to sustainable packaging is part of P&G's original Environmental Quality Policy and P&G’s recently announced sustainability vision and 2020 goals (

    • What P&G has done to improve packaging

      In packaging, every gram counts. The lighter P&G can make its packs, the cheaper they are to transport and store; the less energy and raw materials they use for manufacture and distribution; and the easier they are for you to carry home.

      However, there is a compromise to be made. We often see that 5 to 20 times as many resources are used for the production of the contents of P&G products as for the packaging. Using packages which are too flimsy may lead to the product spilling or to uncontrolled dosing, which is far more wasteful than using too much packaging in the first place.

      Over time, however, P&G has been able to strike this balance, while also reducing the amount of product the package has to carry, through compaction, without any loss in performance. P&G's current packages are examples of lean design, requiring much less material than was previously needed. Yet with some of the best examples you might not even notice the difference.

      Take the bottles of many of the best-selling P&G detergents, such as Ariel, Fairy or Bold. P&G has a highly dedicated research and development organisation that relies on a whole universe of acronym-laden modelling & simulation tools: Bottle Optimal Weight System (BOWS), Computer Aided Design, Computer Aided Engineering, Finite Element Analysis, Least Energy Analysis and Virtual Packing Line modelling. These are applied to everything from creating lighter weight detergents packages to coming up with new processes for bottle making.

      In 2006, for example, P&G used BOWS in a project supported by the UK's Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP UK) and was able to reduce the weight of a range of bottles by seven per cent less than was previously thought possible. This equated to a material and waste reduction of about 400 tonnes a year across Western Europe. And it is just one example of how P&G develops its packaging and use innovation and customer input to help with its commitment to the environment and requirement for recycling.

      Click on the links below to find out more about our packaging procedures:
      How P&G develops packaging
      How P&G involves consumers
      P&G's commitment to the environment

    • How P&G develops packaging

      Packaging is important because it protects the product, allows it to be transported and serves as a medium for messages to reach the consumer. It also allows the product to be found on a shelf and to be used at home effectively.

      P&G's packages always have a dual focus: on the environment and on the consumer. All P&G packaging is subjected to in-depth human health safety and ecological risk assessments and are designed in a sustainable way with consumers in mind. P&G is committed to sustainability and does its utmost to make sure you can trust that its packaging is safe for you and for the environment.

      P&G also wants to make sure its packaging is good value, and to achieve all this in a single package, a wide depth of P&G's technical expertise is used. Inspiration does not just come from the world of washing powders and dishwasher detergents. P&G's aim in developing its packaging is to meet consumer expectations while also producing packages which also meet five sustainability objectives (the 5 Rs); namely:

      • Reduce - less material used, for example, through cutting the weight of existing bottles, detergent compaction or the optimization of the amount of energy and raw materials, results in lower cost and a reduced load on the environment
      • Recycle - an increased rate of recycling reduces the need for new material and again reduces the environmental load.
      • Re-use - recovering packages after they have been used, or allowing them to be reused through refills, reduces costs and cuts down on the need for raw materials.
      • Replace - switching to alternative resources such as post-consumer recycled materials which can reduce material requirements as well as carbon dioxide emissions.
      • Remove - limiting or avoiding the use of certain materials from our packaging where that can improve the safety profile, the environmental quality, societal acceptability or the compatibility with waste management systems.

    • Packaging innovation at P&G

      Step inside the P&G packaging design process and you will find yourself surrounded by some of the most advanced technologies available today.

      P&G has a highly dedicated research and development organization that relies on a whole universe of acronym-laden tools: Bottle Optimal Weight System (BOWS), Computer Aided Design, Finite Element Analysis, Least Energy Analysis and Virtual Packing Line modelling. These are applied to everything from creating lighter detergents to coming up with new processes for bottle making. In one example of the latter, P&G is working on a process called Injection Stretch Blow Moulding, using polypropylene instead of traditional high density polyethylene plastic, which is expected to increase material efficiency - and reduce weight - by 20 per cent. A life-cycle analysis of the process shows it will require fewer materials and less energy, thereby creating fewer emissions. In another bottle-related example, our BOWS software system has helped shave seven per cent off the weight of some of our most widely-used packages, saving 400 tonnes of raw materials a year across Western Europe.

      Elsewhere, P&G uses virtual reality environments to research and modify packages, speeding up the process of finding new and better ways of packaging. Virtual Package Development allows easy modification of trial designs within days, not weeks. Meanwhile another system, Virtual Customer Engagement, allows the design team to create unique in-store propositions for consumers. Both services use a virtual studio called The Cave, the main feature of which is a mega-screen of three metres high by 12 metres wide. Both services mean that time-consuming physical mock ups will one day become a thing of the past. This technology has changed the way P&G does business. Just a couple of years ago it was taking three weeks to do what P&G can now do in just a couple of days.

      This has a significant impact on P&G's ability to quickly update its packaging whenever it finds an opportunity to improve its performance or its environmental profile. The virtual technology is close enough to reality to enable better decisions, faster and cheaper, and P&G uses this to develop environmentally-improved packages.

    • Why consumers are critical to P&G's packaging design

      If you thought modern detergent packaging was created by top experts in industrial design, you would only be partially right. A lot of what goes into each package also comes from the consumer.

      One key piece of input is getting feedback on how easy P&G products are to find on the shelf, so that P&G can design the package to make it easier for consumers to select the right product and preferred variant. Ergonomics are also very important to our packaging designs. If a product is hard to open, grip or use in any other way, its chances of selling will not be helped. And the best way to gauge what works is to talk to consumers about it.

      As well as a whole battery of ergonomics and health and safety tests which you would expect to be carried out as a matter of course, P&G also takes advantage of any opportunity to talk to consumers and get their feedback.

      For example, focus groups are used to understand consumer needs, motivations, ideas and reactions to concepts and new products. We have used these focus groups with P&G's Swiffer product, for instance, talking to groups of six to 12 people about how they kept their houses clean. People were chosen who spend a lot of time cleaning and keeping household mess under control. They told P&G that one of their biggest problems was to dust areas that were high up and hard to reach. So P&G developed a product with an extendable handle.

      To find out what people think of P&G products before they are actually available on the shelves, P&G has created a system called Virtual Customer Engagement which simulates a store environment so P&G can test branding, packaging and promotions, all within a computer.

      And P&G will even act on unsolicited feedback. In April 2007, for example, P&G's UK hotline got a call from a consumer who was having trouble opening a box of Daz. The call was fed into a feedback process which shortly after resulted in a new box design that was easier to open. Another example is the cap on P&G detergent bottles. In response to consumer feedback, P&G researched and developed new materials to ensure the product was leak-proof but much easier to open.

      These are some of the examples of how P&G is working to reduce the environmental impact of its packages while ensuring that P&G products are easy to use and fit with consumers' needs and expectations.

    • How P&G is committed to environmentally-friendly packaging

      Environmentally responsible packaging is an important part of P&G’s commitment to sustainable innovation.

      How can we make packaging which is kinder to the environment? There are many areas where it is possible to make improvements, and at P&G we try to work on all of them. For one of P&G's packages to be more environmentally efficient, it has to:

      • Lose weight. The heavier a package, the more energy is needed to move it around and the more material goes to waste. So P&G puts its packs on a diet, lightening the load for you and for the environment.
      • Save energy. P&G does this by aiming to use less raw materials, less transport and less waste. This has led P&G to some pretty radical moves over time. Right now, for example, we are gradually switching our bottle manufacturing to a new process that requires 20 per cent less resin.
      • Use more recycled content. A high fraction of the material used in P&G's packaging is recycled. P&G also tries to maximise the amount of recycled material in the cases that it uses for transportation and distribution, and is currently achieving between 75 and 93 per cent.
      • Be compatible with waste management systems. By maximizing the efficiency of its packaging, P&G has avoided around 2 million tonnes of waste a year. Beyond that, P&G aims to maximize the use of materials which can be easily recycled. Plus P&G recycles almost all the waste from its manufacturing processes.
      • Maximize use of raw materials. About 96 per cent of the raw materials that go into P&G's manufacturing sites emerge as part of a finished product, so there is very little waste - and what P&G cannot use, is mostly recycled.
      • Comply with regulations and packaging schemes. Of course, P&G complies with all national and European regulations and schemes on waste management, such as the Waste Management Act and the Green Dot schemes.
      • Participate in voluntary industry initiatives. Under the umbrella of the International Association for Soaps, Detergents and Maintenance Products (A.I.S.E.), the industry voluntarily cut laundry packaging use by 6.7 per cent between 1996 and 2001. P&G has very actively participated in this initiative and contributed a significant amount of the savings achieved. In the recent decade, P&G participated to several other A.I.S.E. sustainability initiatives.
      • Limit or avoid the use of certain materials. P&G limits or avoids the use of certain materials in our packaging where it improves the safety profile, environmental quality, societal acceptability or compatibility with waste management systems.

    • What will P&G be doing in the future?

      What will P&G do to improve the sustainability of its packaging? More of the same!
      P&G will continue with the same significant levels of investment in packaging research and innovation, with a view to developing more sustainable packaging that works for you as well as for the environment. P&G will continue to work on compaction to ensure that smaller amounts of its detergents will go further, with the same or better results.
      P&G takes this sustainable innovation role very seriously, both within its internal research and development departments and in our external Connect and Develop networks, where it will continue to foster open innovation with external experts and innovative organisations.

      And P&G will, of course, continue to meet and exceed European targets for packaging and waste management. All this has a sound business reason as well as an environmental one. See the P&G case study on the Belgian success story of Fost Plus.

      Almost anything P&G can do to improve the efficiency of its packaging operations will result in savings for its business, for the environment and, ultimately, for you as a consumer, so P&G has a financial, social and environmental triple-win approach as an incentive for continued investments in this area.

  • How can consumers help with the ‘ecology’ of packaging?

    If you care about the environment and pay attention to the products you are buying then you should pay attention to the packaging too.

    Buying products that use environmentally efficient packs will help the planet by creating fewer emissions and less waste than less efficient alternatives. You can also limit the amount of packages that you go through by using high quality detergent and cleaning brands. They are more efficient at washing and cleaning and will last much longer so that you get more washes per pack.

    Perhaps the easiest way to ensure you are buying products with a minimal impact on the environment is to stick to ones that do not have an unnecessary amount of packaging (and do not forget to re-use shopping bags where possible). You can also make a difference by buying compact or refillable detergents, when available, as these have considerably less packaging than standard equivalents.

    As a consumer, you now have more choice than ever and can exercise your right to environmentally improved products when and wherever you want. Read on to find out what you can do in and after the wash, and how much of a difference this will make.

    • Tips for a more sustainable wash

      If you want to save packaging while cleaning or doing your wash, the best advice is to dose the correct amount of detergent.
      P&G products will go further, so you will not need to replace them as frequently and you will be cutting down the number of packs or bottles that you are throwing away or recycling. Some rules of thumb to achieve this are:

      • Use high-quality detergent and cleaning brands. They are more efficient at washing and cleaning and will last much longer, making them more cost-effective in the long run.
      • Pick compact detergents, refill pouches, tablets or liquitabs instead of big-box products. They will all provide roughly the same number of doses and it is fairly clear that the products in smaller packages involve less packaging.
      • Always look at the pictogram which shows the number of doses in each pack; this is an easy way to find out how many wash loads you can do with different detergent brands.
      • Get information on the waste collection schemes in your region and find out how you can take part in them.
      • When you buy refill pouches for your powder or liquid detergent, you can give your bottle or cardboard detergent pack a longer lifetime and will not need to throw it away when it is empty.
      • Use the correct dosage for the amount of washing you are doing, the level of soiling and the water hardness. Remember that many detergents now clean very well at lower temperature and that overdosing will not generally improve the results.
      • Fill the machine correctly. Modern, low water fill washing machines are designed to use less water, so if you own one you should be particularly careful not to over fill it.
      • Make sure you adjust the dose to the level of soiling, water hardness and drum size.
      • Follow fabric care symbols so that you get optimum results every time and do not have to throw badly-washed items back into the washing machine.
      • Look after your washing machine and give it a regular service wash. This is a hot wash with no clothes in the machine, (60 degrees or more) with an oxygen bleach-containing detergent such as Ariel powder detergents (Ariel Biological Powder in UK). This avoids the build up of soil in your machine which over time could cause malodours due to the growth of bacteria.
      • For dishwashers, pre-treat burnt or baked-on food with Fairy Power Spray and do not stack cups inside each other.
      • Check packaging symbols to make sure you recycle or dispose of packages correctly.


    • How you can help the environment after the wash

      If you are keen to protect the environment and have followed our advice on how to minimise energy use, save water and use the right product dose in your laundry and cleaning, then there is just one thing left: to dispose of any packaging responsibly.

      Before you do this, first make sure you cannot get refills for the same container. If the container is not reusable, then here is a handy guide on how to sort your packaging and other household waste so it can be recycled as effectively as possible.

      • Glass: recycle bottles, flasks and jars but not oven-proof glass, porcelain, ceramics, earthenware, crystal, sheets of glass, mirrors, light bulbs or fluorescent lights. Also leave out all tops, lids and corks. Depending on your local scheme, you may need to sort the glass into different colours.
      • Paper and cardboard (carton): recycle paper bags, card boxes, newspapers, magazines, leaflets, books and printer and letter paper. Leave out painted, dirty or greasy paper, cellophane and tin foil, as well as any plastic magazine covers or wrappers.
      • Other containers: recycle plastic bottles and flasks, metallic packaging such as aerosol cans, aluminium trays, bottle tops, tins and cans) and drink cartons.
      • These are general guidelines but the details may differ in your country. Check with your local scheme to find out exactly what types of material are recycled and how it has to be sorted.


    • Tips

      To download a comprehensive list of tips about what you can do to make a difference, click here.

  • What do the symbols on P&G packaging mean?

    There are a variety of packaging and recycling symbols that you can find on your consumer household products. Here are some of the most important ones in the European region. They are used to identify plastic resins and other packaging materials and also as recycling indicators.

    Identification of materials
    On this page, you will find the symbols and codes used to identify packaging ingredients. These symbols are developed predominantly to facilitate recycling of post-consumer plastics through the normal channels for collecting recyclable materials from household waste.

    The material identification is voluntary in most, but not all European countries. If it is used, only prescribed combinations of numbers and letters are allowed. The European normalization organisation (CEN) has harmonized this. In the U.S.A., plastic material identification is regulated based on SPI Resin Codes which are almost identical to the codes under European Union legislation. The differences are small. By way of example: The abbreviation for polyethylene terephthalate is - for trademark reasons - PETE in the US and in Europe it is PET.

    The symbols used for plastic materials (so-called resins) are always a combination of the recycling loop, combined with an abbreviation and a numerical value.

    The overwhelming majority of plastic packaging is made with one of the first 6 listed resins:

    • Number 1: PET(E) (Polyethylene terephthalate) - In technical terms, this is called the 'resin identification code 1 for polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE)'.
    • Number 2: HDPE (High-density polyethylene)
    • Number 3: V or PVC: (Polyvinyl chloride)
    • Number 4: LDPE (Low-density polyethylene)
    • Number 5: PP (Polypropylene)
    • Number 6: PS (Polystyrene)
    • Number 7: All other plastics
    No specific material identification is commonly used for glass, paper or cardboard. Additional symbols are used for steel and aluminium.

    Recycling schemes

    Recycling schemes

    This is the most common symbol. It shows that a fee has been paid for the recovery of the packaging in currently 25 European countries. It is licensed by Packaging Recycling Organization Europe (PRO Europe) to the respective national packaging recovery organisations. These subsequently give licences to use the Green Dot symbol within each country to companies which would like to take part in the collection and recovery system. To find out more, click here.

    Recycling schemes The mobius loop is used to indicate that an object is capable of being recycled. It is a universally recognized recycling symbol with 3 chasing arrows in an unending loop. It does not necessarily mean that an object has been recycled, but indicates that it can be recycled.
    Recycling schemes This symbol denotes an object contains x% of recycled material. Use of this symbol is voluntary. It shows how much recyclate has been used. Some goods contain recycled materials but do not carry this symbol.

    Interesting websites to find out more are: (Pro-Europe)


The Head Line


Illustrations from P&G's Science-in-the-Box website can be used freely for educational, non-commercial purposes provided that the source will be published as follows: "Obtained from (P&G website)"


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