Common Symbols for waste sorting

The Nordic countries strengthen waste sorting with a Common System of Symbols for waste bins, recycling stations and for packaging.

Until recently, communication on waste sorting and treatment differed from country to country, and often from municipality to municipality in the Nordic countries. Through the use of the same waste symbols, citizens in these countries can now receive the same communication on waste sorting and treatment, thereby making it easier for all citizens to sort their waste correctly and so to increase material recycling. Having producers label packaging with these common symbols for waste sorting will also send clear and easy to understand guidance for packaging waste sorting.

The system was developed via collaboration between municipalities and waste companies, the recycling industry, packaging producers and retailers as well as citizens in the Nordic countries: Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland.

How it works

The system currently consists of 90 different pictograms which can be used for waste collected at households and companies - e.g. glass, metal and plastics - and waste collected at recycling centers,
e.g. construction and demolition waste, large electronics and garden waste etc.

The system is easy to understand and navigate. It is built on three core principles: it is free, it is available for anyone, and it works on the Lego brick concept: flexible yet uniform in design. The system is free of charge; citizens or municipalities only cover the expenses for printing of signs, stickers or labels for their own use. This free, non-profit principle is crucial to ensure the widespread adoption and use of the system and to making sure that citizens find the same waste sorting symbols wherever they are – at work, at home, in public places, at the supermarket etc.

Looking Ahead

The system of waste symbols have been launched in Denmark (2017), Sweden (2020) and Norway (2020). Finland and Iceland are in the process of introducing them.

The European Commission wishes to harmonise waste sorting and has proposed to introduce waste sorting symbols as a part of the Circular Economy Action Plan. A joint system of symbols for waste sorting plays a central role in providing the Nordic countries with the necessary tools in their transformation towards a circular economy by enabling better quality and greater quantities of recovered materials. Furthermore, it has a substantial impact on the fulfilment of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The original danish pictogram system was designed by innovation bureau Futu.