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Where did the Recycling Symbol Come From?

We are all familiar with the Recycling Symbol today. But do you know where it came from/ how it came about? It has to do with the very beginnings of Earth Day and a design contest.

Poster of The first earth day

Earth Day was first proposed by peace activist John McConnel as a “day to honor the earth and the concept of peace” at a UNESCO conference in San Franscisco. It was first celebrated in 1970 on the Northern Hemisphere’s Spring equinox on March 21st. US Senator Gaylord Nelson promoted a second Earth Day on April 22nd, the day it is held on now in the US and around the world. Nelson, a staunch environmentalist, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts.
In 1970, in support of the new Earth Day movement, a company specializing in producing recycled paperboard, the Container Corporation of America,held a competition for a contest to design a new symbol for the movement. It was won by a college student at the University of Southern California by the name of Gary Anderson. At the age of 23, he designed one of the most universally recognized logos to date. The symbol is in the public domain so may be used by everyone.

There are several special color variants in use that refer to distinct types of recyclables. The symbol was redesigned slightly to what is in use today. Most variants of the symbol now have all the arrows folding over themselves, creating a ”Möbius strip”1 with three half-twists.

1 A surface with one continuous side formed by joining the ends of a rectangular strip after twisting one end through 180°. (Google)