Food Packaging Symbols and What They Mean (UK)

There is an overwhelming number of packaging symbols out there today. They’re important for several reasons — but what do these food packaging signs mean?

Food packaging today usually comes emblazoned with dozens of symbols. They might look familiar, but how many of these symbols do you actually understand? To help you navigate this often complicated and confusing area, we’ll break down the most popular food packaging symbols. We’ll show how they help to educate and inform customers, so they can make buying decisions that are right for them, their ethics and their dietary requirements.

Related: How Packaging Design Can Boost Sales

The Recycling Symbol (The Mobius Loop)

Example of the green Recycling Symbol

This famous food packaging symbol (known as the Mobius Loop) indicates the packaging material can be recycled. It’s important to note that recycling symbols like the one shown above don’t indicate whether the product or material itself is recycled, or that it uses recycled materials. It simply means most recycling collection systems will accept the packaging. This recycling label sometimes has a percentage figure in the middle. This figure explains how much of the product comes from recycled materials.

The Green Dot

Example of the Green Dot

The green dot symbol is a worldwide protected trademark. This symbol is used by organisations in 29 countries to show that a financial contribution has been made to a qualified national packaging recover organisation, set up following the principles defined in the European Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive.

Do Not Litter: Keep Britain Tidy

Example of the Do Not Litter logo

This is perhaps the most well-known of packaging symbols. On food products, this “do not litter” symbol is present to give us all a reminder to do our duty as responsible citizens by disposing of the product packaging thoughtfully after use. The symbol itself is nothing to do with recycling. The symbol was invented by Keep Britain Tidy.

Compostable

Example of the compostable logo

This seedling symbol refers to the EU certification for compostable packaging. Packaging can only feature this symbol after a formal certification and testing. The symbol signifies that the food packaging passes all criteria as set out by European standards. Such packaging can eventually be composted safely and responsibly and return to the earth as soil.

FSC Certified Paper

Example of the FSC certified paper logo on packaging

Paper packaging is great for the environment, but not all food trays, bags or straws will come from responsibly-sourced wood. The FSC Certified Paper symbol reassures eco-conscious customers the wood pulp is sourced in an environmentally friendly way.

Resin Identification Code

Guide to each Resin Identification logo

Resin Identification Codes are a set of symbols used to identify the type of plastic resin used to create the packaging. There are currently seven Resin Identification Codes used to properly identify plastic so it can be sorted appropriately for recycling purposes. We should note that currently there is no mandatory need to mark plastic with such a code in the UK.

To get to grips with what each of the codes means, we recommend visiting the Energy Management Services website

Related: The Role of Packaging in the Supply Chain

The Fair Trade Mark

Example of the Fairtrade logo

The Fair Trade Mark is a readily-identified and trusted symbol. To become certified, companies must work with the organisation to ensure their practices and processes operate at certain standards as laid down by Fair Trade International. The movement focuses on sustainable livelihoods for farmers and workers, as well as focusing on protecting the environment. Seeing this symbol, customers can rest assured the company hires employees who work in safe conditions.

Recyclable Aluminium

Example of the Recyclable Aluminium logo

This one packaging symbol is fairly self-explanatory — it indicates whether the aluminium contained within the packaging can be recycled.

Gluten Free

Example of the gluten free logo

Now we get to the dietary symbols that are becoming increasingly important these days, as people become more aware of their sensitivities and are moving more towards plant-based diets.
This crossed grain symbol is internationally recognisable. It represents products that have gained gluten-free certification.

Vegetarian

Example of the Vegetarian Society logo

This symbol sometimes varies but is generally depicted as a V inside an oval. This symbol means the food inside the packaging is Vegetarian Society approved.

Vegan

Example of the Vegan Society trademark

With more and more consumers becoming plant-based, this is a symbol that has become more frequently used recently. The trademark confirms to customers that the Vegan Society has independently tested and approved the food.


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