Application of the Symbology

Instructions for using recycling symbology

Environment and Sustainability CommitteeBrazil does not have any law that defines the use of recycling symbology. And ABRE is not a regulatory body. Therefore, we provide the market with instructions based on NBR ISO 14.021:2004 and NBR 13.230:2008 standards, both published by ABNT.

Before getting into the merit, it is important to explain the concepts. The market confuses the terms for Environmental Material Recycling and Labeling Identification Symbology.

In the case of Symbology, it is only a reference for recyclability for the market and for consumers, without any need for proof. Thus, the symbology should be employed to guide an action and not to add any information or subjective value to the product.

Environmental Labeling will add information related to the product and packaging, consisting of a statement of responsibility by the product manufacturer, since it will bring some added and intrinsic value to the same, and may interfere in the purchase decision. The information that is characterized as Environmental Labeling should be possible to prove through studies, reports and etc. For example: Ecological product, 15% recycled material, Eco-efficient, etc.

It is important to underscore that aforementioned, regardless of how much they are used by the market, are not ideal because they are vague and do not have clear and objective concepts for the consumer.

ABRE’s Sustainability Committee will soon publish a primer on Environmental Labeling Guidelines.


Recycling Symbology

The Symbology for recyclable plastic materials is the only one in Brazil and in the world established in Technical Standard – NBR 13.230:2008. It foresees the identification of 6 different plastic materials, and a 7th option when there is a mix of plastic materials.

The paper sector that always used the ‘Mobus Iup’ symbol to identify its materials, influenced the ISO commission to adopt this symbol as a standard for recycling, becoming the reference symbol.

In Brazil, the symbology for the other materials: glass, steel and aluminum, were established by each sector, and even though they are not part of a Standard, they have become a reference for these markets. Due to the fact they do not consist of any Standard, there are no standards for their use.

These symbols aim to identify all packaging material. Since in practice, this identification has the specific purpose for use in sending to recycling programs, the symbols gained popular recognition as a reference for material that can be recycled.

Recycling has been growing in our country and it has become strategic for all of society. Furthermore, its separation for recycling occurs through cooperatives of garbage pickers. That is why in order to facilitate identification by the cooperatives and by consumers; the identification of the packaging has become so important.

Based on that, ABRE recommends the following application of Symbology:
Recycling Material Identification Symbology should be included on those packages that can be recycled in Brazil. These should only be used as symbols or only using the material’s denomination as text – example: steel, aluminum, glass, and as foreseen in the standard for plastic materials, obligatorily the text PET, PVC, PP, etc.

Together with this Symbology, which identifies each material, the Selective Disposal symbol should be used, which is geared toward the consumer’s instruction. It should be used without any text, or at most, with instructions for the selective disposal action, such as: ‘Selective Disposal’, ‘Dispose of for Recycling’ or ‘Recycle’.

By using this symbology, it is not necessary to prove the actual recycling of the material; however, it should be recycled and for that reason the product manufacturer should ensure there is the technology for its recycling in the country.

In the case of flexible packaging, where there is a mixture of different materials, there are different interpretations based on practices in other countries. There are companies that adopt the practice of using the symbol for the predominant material or the symbol where the recycling process begins. For example, the UHT milk cartons use the symbol for paper. That is because the first stage of recycling for this material is in the paper / undulated cardboard industry.

In these cases, it is important for the company to have knowledge of the material’s recycling process and to work with the recycling industry in processes and technologies for its revaluation.

In the event the packaging cannot be recycled in Brazil due to technical reasons, only the Anti-Littering symbol should be used, without any identification of the material.

All of the above described symbols are available for download at the ABRE site. And we recommend reading the Technical Standards available at ABNT ( and the Primer for Environmental Labeling Applied to Packaging, also available for download at the ABRE website.


Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Are all packages technically recyclable?

Today, most packaging is recyclable in Brazil, which has an operational recycling industry. But to eliminate any doubts, the company shall ensure together with its packaging suppliers, which packages already have a recycling industry set up in the country.

2. For packaging with 2 types of recyclable components (lid, label, jar), what would the instruction be for disposal in terms of the packaging material symbol to be used on the label?

Each component shall be identified through text on the packaging label. For example:
Lid: steel (recyclable steel symbol).
Jar: Plastic (symbol for the plastic in question), and so on.

3. Does ABRE instruct on the use of the selective disposal symbol for all packages? Even for those that are not recyclable?

No, it should only be used on recyclables, In other words, those with recycling technology / structure in Brazil. This symbol should be used together with the symbology that identifies the recyclable material. For those that are not recyclable, we recommend the Anti-Littering symbol.

However, it is necessary to be aware of the advances in recycling technology so the package can begin to use the symbol as soon as there is an industry / technology installed for recycling that material. And we will soon have energy recycling, so that more packaging can be screened by garbage picker cooperatives and sent for this energy recycling process.