When you think of the word “recycling,” the iconic green triple-arrow loop most likely comes to mind. Who made this icon? Why is the symbol we are using right now? Let’s find out.

The origin

Gary Anderson designed the recycling symbol back in 1970. He was 23 years old at the time, studying engineering at the University of Southern California.

The design was created as an entry to the International Design Conference led by the Container Corporation of America (CCA). This was during the same year Earth Day was first celebrated. The creation of a recycling symbol is one of the steps to promote environmental awareness.

Among more than 500 submissions, Anderson’s design reigned supreme, earning him US $ 2,500 cash prize which he used to continue his education in Sweden.

Rise to fame

The three-arrow Mobius loop elegantly depicts the cycle of consumption, processing, and reuse that is in the process of recycling. There’s no wonder how the symbol quickly caught on, especially with the promotion of CCA.

“The figure was designed as a Mobius strip to symbolize continuity within a finite entity. I used the arrows to give directionality to the symbol. I envisioned it with the small edge or the point of the triangle at the bottom. I wanted to suggest both the dynamic (things are changing) and the static (it’s a static equilibrium, a permanent kind of thing). The arrows, as broad as they are, draw back to the static side,” Anderson explained in an interview with Penny Jones.

CCA attempted to apply for a patent in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. However, the claim was heavily contested. With this, Anderson’s design belonged to the public domain.

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More than symbolic

The recycling has completely dominated the world. It’s difficult not to stumble upon one of these symbols in our everyday lives.

After his creation of the symbol, Anderson continued in his advocacy of protecting the environment, eventually getting a Master’s Degree in Urban Design and Ph.D. in Geography and Environmental Engineering, his skills from which he used to contribute to the responsible management of the growth of our cities. His contributions to environmental protection has definitely gone beyond the symbol he created.

November 15 marks the National Recycling Day. This is the perfect time to ask ourselves  — are we recycling the stuff this recycling is stamped on or have we allowed this symbol to remain nothing more than just a symbol?

Right now, in the Pacific Ocean, there is a humongous patch of garbage known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — an accumulation of the plastic that we have dumped into our oceans. We haven’t even started talking about all the garbage that is in our land.

There is an urgent need for us to eliminate all of these waste plaguing our world. One step towards this is not adding to all the trash that’s already here.

We should strive to go past the appreciation of iconic Mobius loop. We must be  the finite entities that can uphold continuity of balance Anderson speaks of.

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