Q. I’ve raised my daughter to look carefully at recycling symbols and sort trash accordingly, but the other day she looked a little bit closer than I had expected and asked me who invented the three-arrow recycling symbol. I couldn’t answer her! Do you know? - Tim, AZ
A.Trivia! As reliable an information source as Wikipedia is, we went to the American Forest and Paper Association to answer your question. Turns out, the person you’re looking for is a guy named Gary Anderson. Here’s how it all went down: In 1970, the Container Corporation of America (CCA), the largest paper recycler at the time, was using recycled content to make its paperboard, and really wanted to brag about it … I mean, let consumers know. This was the 70’s, after all, and people had started to realize that conserving resources is groovy. So CCA held a contest to see who could come up with the best recycling symbol. Anderson, then a senior at the University of Southern California, based his entry on work done in the 19th century by a mathematician named August Ferdinand Mobius. Mobius was really into loops, and the idea of things continuing on forever. Anderson came up with the “chasing arrows” symbol we all know and love today — it’s sometimes referred to as the “Mobius loop” — and was chosen out of 500 contest entrants. Learn something new every day.
Story by Tobin Hack. This article originally appeared in Plenty in April 2008.
Related recycling story on MNN: Recycling symbols decoded