The Story of the Recycling Symbol

The best-known green logo isn’t even a trademark, at least not anymore.

In 1970, around the same time as the first Earth Day celebration, the Container Corporation of America sponsored a design contest designed to raise awareness of environmentalism.  The winner was Gary Anderson, then a student at USC. His winning entry was the now-familiar universal recycling symbol:

 Recycling symbol.svg

The design was intended to be evocative of the infinity symbol (∞) and reflects the endless cycle of materials in our environment. An adapted  form of it is also used now as part of the SPI resin identification coding system to identify different plastic types for recycling purposes.  You’ve probably had a drink today out of something bearing one of these:


Container Corporation of America filed an application for trademark protection of the recycling symbol, but ultimately abandoned the application. Today, the symbol is widely used and in the public domain. Does that mean you can use the symbol in advertising any way you like? Well, no. If the use would be misleading or deceptive to consumers (for example, if the product really wasn’t recycled or recyclable), you could run afoul of the false advertising laws. We will discuss this in more depth in future articles.

Other countries use different variants of the symbol. The one below is used in Taiwan. Just for fun, how many arrows can you find?


  1. Tafadzwa Mugabe Said,

    August 26, 2010 @ 10:43 am

    Nice and informative piece

  2. Hand Truck Wheels Said,

    August 28, 2010 @ 4:50 am

    Yeah! Great writing, continue to keep up the awesome job. This is the sort of information that really should get acknowledgement for it’s craft. More authors should learn from you. This is precisely on the money.

  3. Arizona Trademark Attorney Said,

    August 28, 2010 @ 12:52 pm

    I count 8, but I have a hunch there’s more.

  4. Arizona Trademark Attorney Said,

    August 28, 2010 @ 12:53 pm

    Also – welcome to the blogosphere!

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