The Recycle Symbol History

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The recycle symbol is one of the most publicized symbols in the world, probably as well known as the McDonald's twin golden arches or Nike's swoosh, have you ever wondered where it came from? After doing some research, this is what I found out.

As it turns out, the recycle symbol is designed in 1970 by Gary Dean Anderson, who at that time is a 23 year old college student at the University of Southern California, better known as USC. This very same year in April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day is held bringing nationwide awareness and environmental consciousness about earth's finite resources and the need to conserve for future generations.

In response to the gaining momentum in environmental movements, Container Corporation of America (now Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation), a paperboard company who at that time was also the largest user of recycled fiber in the United States, sponsored a nation-wide drawing contest to create a design symbolizing the paper recycling process. The winning symbol is to be printed on all CCA products made from recycled and recyclable fibers. The winner is to receive a $2,500 grant for further study at any college or university in the world.


More than 500 students from around the nation submitted their designs in spring of 1970. The designs were then placed in front of a panel of distinguished judges attending the International Design Conference in Aspen, Colorado. Gary Dean Anderson submitted a series of 3 designs for consideration and won first place with the simplest of the three.

How did Gary come up with this design? The recycle symbol is inspired by the Mobius strip, a figure created by gluing the ends of a single strip of paper together and twisting it. He also enjoyed art from M.C. Escher, a Dutch artist who created a series of drawings based on the Mobius strip.

The recycle symbol as we know today is slightly altered by the CCA. According to the original design, the recycle symbol stood on one of its shorter edges (where the arrow bends). CCA rotated it allowing the symbol to sit on one of the longer edges, therefore, making it look more "stable".

I'm a plastic trader and processor and have more than 5 years experience working in the plastic recycling business in China.


Recently, I started a new blog, Recycled Plastic dot com, that covers my knowledge and experience in this field.

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