Green dot and mobius symbols cause recycling confusion, finds study

Green dot symbol

A new study from RECOUP, Plastics Europe and Marks and Spencer has found that the green dot and mobius symbols add to consumer confusion when it comes to recycling. 

This observational study was conducted to understand consumer behaviour and the barriers of recycling plastic packaging. 


The plastics charity commissioned “Watch me Think” to facilitate recordings of citizen behaviour to gain an insight on consumer recycling at home, and their views on recycling.

RECOUP are one of nine trade associations that has helped develop The Recycling Event, a brand new conference for the recycling supply chain. Info:

This study found that people remained confused, especially when it came to the green dot and mobius symbols, as they thought they meant the same thing.  

It identified that in the case of plastic packaging where OPRL recycling instructions were easily detected, consumers tended to follow these directions and symbol confusion was not prominent in their behaviour.  

The feedback from people found that recycling messages need to be highly visible, unambiguous and on the front of the pack.  

RECOUP communications manager Anne Hitch said: “This study identified barriers to behaviour change and attitude towards recycling. Consumer confusion is complex and subjective, but even when people are keen to recycle the labelling means that items may end up in landfill that could otherwise be recycled.  RECOUP’s Pledge2Recycle Plastics work shows that there is a need to invest in education and communication.”   

Other findings include: 

  • The need to separate some items of packaging before recycling was viewed as a hassle, which led to certain items ending up in the general waste 
  • Even if the consumer knew that the item was recyclable, it could still end up in the general waste due to size 
  • Concerns over kitchen hygiene cross contamination from washing resulted in consumers placing meat trays into general waste 
  • Where local instructions indicate ‘food trays’ this led to confusion as people were unsure whether the term referred to ready meal packaging or any trays that have contained cooked or uncooked fruit and vegetables  
  • People were unwilling to do the required cleaning and ended up placing soiled items of plastic packaging that could be recycled into their general waste. 

Despite the issue of plastics recycling being high on the agenda, people still do not see this as their responsibility. All respondents saw this responsibility as that of the brand owner or the local authority.  

Plastics Europe senior resource efficiency manager Adrian Whyle said: “This study provides a unique insight into householders recycling behaviour and clearly highlights that there is much confusion on what can or cannot be recycled. We encourage all stakeholders to work towards a harmonised waste collection system throughout the UK with clear labelling on what can or cannot be recycled in order eliminate confusion and to maximise the recovery of such valuable resources.” 

RECOUP chief executive Stuart Foster said: “We know that the general public are generally keen to recycle more plastics. We have seen how communication and clear consistent messaging is critical in driving up recycling rates. We are working closely with our members and across industry to make recycling easy and economically viable. We all need to recognise how even making small changes, can have a big environmental impact.”  

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