The 3-arrowed universal recycling symbol is familiar to many, but its history may not be.
Around the same time as the first scheduled Earth Day in April of 1970, a Chicago, Illinois company, then called the Container Corporation of America, held a contest to choose a winning symbol to represent paper recycling.
The business, which was a paperboard operation, was the leading user of recycled papers during this time. Open to students in the design or art fields, over 500 submissions were received for the competition. The entries revolved around the theme Environment by Design and were reviewed at a conference for international design.
Gary Anderson, a 23 year old graduate student in Southern California was deemed the winning designer and took home the prize, an educational tuition grant totaling $2,500. Though he probably did not at first recognize the significance of his design in the recycling world, or that his now famous symbol would grow into the universal launch pad for placing recycling symbols on packaging.
Reportedly the architecture student was interested in the design notion of interlocking fibers and the Möbius strip, similar to the structure made by connecting the ends of twisted paper, and this inspired him in his work for the contest.
This loop was revealed by an astronomer and mathematician named August Ferdinand Möbius in 1858. Also, Anderson studied the artist M. C. Escher’s Möbius strip series. Using the idea of the strip to represent the importance and interconnection of the environment, the pen and ink drawing that was chosen was one of a few entries he submitted.
Somewhat different from the existing design, his initial drawing showed the sign reposed a bit on one side, which gave it more of a movement effect. The placement of the original was altered to make it appear steadier. The original company never trademarked the emblem, which has contributed to its evolving into so many variations throughout the years.
The symbol carries a specific meaning: The 3 arrows represent the recycling process of collecting and sorting materials, preparing the recycled materials to be turned into manufactured goods and making recycled products available, thus coming full circle. The shape in the middle of the arrows resembles a triangle, which stands for the concept reduce, reuse and recycle.
The logo has obvious staying power, and thankfully so does its message.
Ingeniously incorporating symbolism and design, Mr. Anderson has given the world a thoughtful recycling tool and a visual reminder to be more aware of our actions.
Dyer, J.C. December, 2001. Paper University; Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry. Retrieved from: tappi.org
Facts on Recycling Symbols: History of the Symbol. Retrieved on March 19, 2013 from all-recycling-facts
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