Defra to mandate Recycle Now mark for packaging in 2026

Producers will be required to label most packaging using the Recycle Now ‘swoosh’ and “relevant wording” by April 2026, a year later than initially proposed.

Within the government’s newly published documents on extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging, Defra says producers will be required to label all packaging types except for plastic films and flexibles with ‘recycle’ or ‘do not recycle’ by 31 March 2026.

The Recycle Now labels advise consumers on whether items can be recycled

Plastic films and flexibles will need labels by 31 March 2027, when it will be mandatory to collect this material for recycling from households and businesses across the UK.

The government had originally proposed that binary labelling should be introduced for all packaging types except plastic films and flexibles by 31 March 2025.

Defra says “many” respondents to the EPR consultation proposed that the Recycle Now swoosh should be adopted as the recycling symbol on packaging because it is “widely used”, “recognised by consumers”, and enables a “common approach”.

Professor Margaret Bates is executive director of independent not-for-profit company On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL), which uses the Recycle Now iconography under an exclusive license.

She welcomed Defra’s decision to make the use of the mark mandatory. “We think it’s great for consumer communications and we’re really looking forward to working with Defra on this,” she told letsrecycle.com.

OPRL will no longer have exclusive use of the Recycle Now mark once labelling became mandatory.

Defra’s proposed wording is slightly different to that used by the labels currently, which have read ‘recycle’ and ‘don’t recycle’ since January 2020 (see letsrecycle.com story).

Enforcement body

Defra says it will bring forward the requirements in regulations and publish guidance to help producers understand.

We think it’s great for consumer communications

  • Professor Margaret Bates, OPRL

The department has proposed that the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) will be the enforcement body responsible for the monitoring and enforcement of the labelling requirements.

It says OPSS has already agreed to take on this role “in principle”.

There will not be a de minimis threshold for businesses to label their packaging.

‘Perfect sense’

OPRL currently has more than 720 members and Professor Bates said this meant the public widely recognised the Recycle Now mark.

Professor Margaret Bates is executive director of OPRL

She said: “It makes perfect sense for the Recycle Now swoosh to be used [from 2026]. I’m really pleased Defra has been pragmatic about it.”

Professor Bates also said she agreed with the decision to delay making labelling mandatory by a year because it gave producers “time to get things right” by changing and re-engineering their packaging to ensure it could be marked as recyclable.

The cost of joining OPRL, which is voluntary and starts at £395, varies based on the size of company. Membership will remain voluntary once the use of the Recycle Now mark becomes mandatory.

However, Professor Bates suggested many more producers would want to join OPRL.

She said: “People will be able to put labels on themselves, but a lot of businesses don’t have the expertise to get it right.”

OPRL is working with material sectors to develop recycling performance methodology to make it easier for producers to know whether they should mark their packaging as recyclable, Professor Bates said.

Recycle Now

Defra says it agreed the use of the Recycle Now swoosh on packaging with resources charity WRAP meaning that producers who are required to label their packaging can use it.

WRAP delivers the Recycle Now citizen campaign alongside broader recycling messages and has given OPRL use of its iconography under an exclusive license.

Professor Bates told letsrecycle.com that OPRL had always worked closely with WRAP, including by holding conversations on a near weekly basis in which she hoped OPSS and the EPR scheme administrator would be involved going forwards.

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