There’s something funny about this symbol:
You’ve seen it a million times, appearing on cardboard milk containers, on aluminum cans, on yogurt containers, or shampoo bottles. The well-known mark was originally designed by Gary Anderson, a 23-year-old University of Southern California architecture student for a design competition to mark recycled paper products. The competition was launched by Container Corporation of America to mark the first Earth Day. Anderson submitted three entries as a step-wise refinement of his simple, and strong graphic idea of three arrows chasing each other in an endless loop.
Container Corporation of America, at the time, was a powerful proponent and commissioner of modern graphic design. The jury for the competition included some of the most celebrated designers of that moment including Herbert Bayer, Elliot Noyes, and Saul Bass. The jurors awarded Anderson’s entry as the winner, selecting his third and simplest drawing.
In a 2023 BBC interview, Gary Anderson recalled what inspired his idea:
And so I took that idea which is that one end of a strip is flipped over and attached to the other end of a strip, there is really only one surface. In my mind that kind of related to recycling, because if everything is recycled then it just seems like we are reusing the same material over and over again.
What he imagined was a Moebius Strip, a topological curiosity that you are all likely familiar with which produced a closed and continuous figure with only one side. It is a dimensional absurdity that had fascinated Anderson for years.
October 24, 2023
Chasing-Arrows.pdf (New York Times)
Debunking-the-Recycling-Myth-Starting-with-Its-Symbol.pdf (New York Times)