The original recycling symbol

March 10, 2008


The original recycling symbol was designed by Gary Anderson. He won a contest in 1970 – the year of the first Earth Day – at the International Design Conference in Aspen, Colorado out of over 500 entries. Gary’s original design had the triangle pointing downwards.

The internationally recognisable recycling symbol design of three chasing arrows is sometimes called a Mobius loop, based on August Ferdinand Möbius‘ – a 19th century German mathematician – discovery that a band of paper joined with a half twist forms a continuous single-edged, one-sided surface.

The contest was sponsored by the Container Corporation of America (CCA), then the USA’s largest paper recycler, to find a design that symbolized the recycling process for its 100% recycled paperboard products.

By the time CCA applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register the symbol as a trademark, the symbol was becoming popular due to CCA’s promotion of it. The registration was challenged and CCA allowed the design into the public domain without a fight.

CCA later designed two further versions:

  1. arrows within a circle connoted recycled content: white arrows in a black circle meant 100 % recycled content; black arrows in a white circle meant recycled content of a stated percentage.
  2. arrows as an outline with no circle connoted that an item was recyclable.

This entry is part of the Infomancy Eco-Symbols Series.

(This content is based on the American Forest & Paper Association’s (AF&PA) Paper Recycling Symbols and the May 1999 Resource Recycling article “Gary Anderson Has Been Found!” available from that page. The image is sourced from that article.)


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