Important Notice in terms of Section 22 of the Protection of Personal Information Act, 4 of 2013 - Read more

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Know your recycling logos

With waste management and recyclability being such prevalent social and economic issues in the world today, consumers are looking for more transparency and clarity from producers and retailers. Consumers are increasingly wanting to play their part by knowing what they can and can’t place in their orange recycling bags or take to recycling centres. To do this, they need clearly marked and easy-to-understand packaging labels.

It’s a common misconception that packaging materials marked with three bent arrows in the shape of a triangle with a number inside it can be recycled. This is not the case in South Africa. This symbol is in fact the material identification code (MIC), and the number indicates the type of material the packaging is made of and not how recyclable it is.

Material identification code (MIC) logoThis confusion is caused by the fact that this symbol looks similar to the universal recycling logo, which consists of the Möbius loop made up of three chasing arrows.

Universal recycling logoThe three arrows on the MIC are often confused with this logo.

Plastic packaging, for example, is marked with numbers from 1 to 7 inside the three arrows. Some people may think that this indicates how many times the plastic can be recycled and reused. This is incorrect. These numbers represent the different type of plastic resin used to make the packaging, from ‘PET’ (1) to ‘OTHER’ (7). This is for the benefit of industry insiders and waste management companies, not the consumer.

While most resin types are technically recyclable, many are not recyclable in South Africa. This is due to many factors including lack of infrastructure and equipment, market conditions, budget limitations and over-engineered materials with multiple layers. As a result, a lot of potentially recyclable waste still ends up in landfills. Hopefully, our recycling facilities will upgrade their equipment so that more of these types of plastics can be recycled.

These numbers represent the different type of plastic resin used to make the packaging.

In the meantime, a group of leading retailers, with the help of the World Wildlife Fund, are implementing a standardised set of recycling instructions that clearly state whether or not packaging can currently be recycled in SA. These are known as On Pack Recycling Logos (OPRLs).

On Pack Recycling Logos (OPRLs)

The messaging on these new logos simply reads ‘Recycle’ or ‘Not Recycled’, accompanied by the Möbius loop of three chasing arrows. To be labelled with ‘Recycle’, the packaging must be able to be collected and actively recycled in practice and at scale in at least one major city in SA.

Packaging will still include the material identification codes but these new OPRLs will now also appear on packaging labels whenever possible. This new recyclability information will be reviewed regularly and updated accordingly, as recycling centres upgrade their equipment or more recycling options become available.

Contact our team at FIL for more advice or information at