The recycling logo. You know the one I mean — the triangle made up of three arrows, drawn as a möbius, or continuous, loop.
This symbol — the recycling logo — has changed the world. It has grown beyond its original meaning and intention, and in many ways has become synonymous with environmental and waste diversion efforts.
Yet many people are not aware of the recycling logo’s humble beginnings.
In 1970, the Container Corporation of America sponsored a design contest for the creation of a recycling logo. Gary Anderson, a 23-year old university student received $2,500 for his winning design that has since become internationally recognizable.
And while it is often assumed the three arrows represent the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle), that isn’t actually the case. The three arrows actually represent collection, manufacturing and purchasing.
Originally, the recycling logo was for paper products only. In fact, different variations of the logo were used to inform consumers whether a paper item was recyclable, or made from recycled content.
In 1988, the American Society of the Plastics Industry incorporated the recycling logo into their resin identification code system. A number ranging from one to seven was included inside the recycling logo. The purpose of this number was to identify the resin — or plastic type — of the item. The number does not tell you whether an item is acceptable for recycling — that’s one reason we no longer include “the numbers” in information about Halton’s Blue Box program.
Due to the introduction of new plastic resin types (including plant-based plastics), ASTM International is working with the plastics industry to determine whether new resin identification codes (numbers eight to ten) should be introduced, and whether the use of the recycling logo is still appropriate.
Following a recent development in Great Britain, some manufacturers and retailers in the US are now presenting the recycling logo in a more meaningful way to ensure consumers know how parts of a package can be recycled. This labelling program, called How2Recycle, is being considered by the Canadian packaging industry.
The recycling triangle logo can be seen everywhere — on paper products, plastic packaging, batteries, posters, cloth bags and Leonard’s t-shirts on The Big Bang Theory. Next time you see the recycling logo, ask yourself why the logo is there on that product — what is it telling you? Was it made with recycled content or does it only identify a plastic type? Is it recyclable?
Where have you seen the recycling logo used? Do you think it is an effective logo?
And as an interesting aside, recently, a contest was held to create an international logo for “reuse.”