What the Recycling Symbol Really Means

The recycling symbol is the triangular logo that you commonly find on the packagings of most products we purchase. What does this symbol represent? And how did it come about? Read this article to find out.


A Brief History

The recycling symbol was created by Gary Anderson, a 23-year-old student at the University of Southern California. The symbol first appeared on the 22nd April 1970 in a high school contest held on the first Earth Day. The competition was sponsored by the Container Corporation of America (CCA) and was aimed at sensitizing people to environmental issues and encouraging environmental protection.

Anderson’s entry won the contest, and ever since, it has gained global recognition and acceptance. The recycling symbol is classified as a public domain rather than an intellectual property. This means that anyone may use or modify it without having to pay any royalty fees.

Anderson’s original design is quite different from what we’re used to seeing on most packagings today. His design was an inverted triangle, with two arrows twisted over each other and the third one fold under to cancel out one of the two arrows. The modified version of this symbol (designed by the CCA), followed a similar pattern featuring a one and half twist Möbius strip. But unlike Anderson’s design, the CCA variant was rotated through 60° to give the pyramidal orientation we are familiar with.


The Symbol

The recycling symbol is a system of three arrows twisted into a triangle, with each arrowhead following the tail of the next in close succession. The three arrows in the logo represent the three consecutive stages involved in recycling.

While one arrow represents the collection of the disposed of recyclable materials, another represents the melting and remolding phase. And finally, the third arrow stands for the reuse of these new containers in packaging new goods.

The aim of embossing the recycling symbol on several product packagings is to provide the product user with specific instructions for the correct disposal of these items. Packaging materials such as cartons, polythene, and glass get specially disposed of to ease the recycling process and promote workers’ safety in recycling plants.

In some countries with stringent recycling policies, individuals may get penalized for violating recycling laws, and likewise, manufacturing companies for using the recycling logo without authorization. To use the recycling symbol, manufacturers must apply for government approval and must also prove to the Environment Agency that their packagings are not toxic to the environment. With permission, manufacturers will receive regional certificates to print the relevant logos on their products.


Resin Identification Codes

Resin Identification Codes (RIC) was developed in 1988 by the United States Society of Plastic Industries. They are a set of symbols on plastic products. Their numberings (1-7) are for specifying the plastic resin for which a product consists.

  1. PET/PETE – Polyethylene terephthalate
  2. PEHD/ HDPE – High-density polyethylene
  3. PVC/V – Polyvinyl chloride
  4. LDPE/PELD – Low-density polyethylene
  5. PP – Polypropylene
  6. PS – Polystyrene

7. O/OTHER – Other plastics, such as polycarbonate, acrylic, polylactic acid, and nylon.