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Earth Day and the History of the Recycling Logo

Tina Howard

We have a special guest author today, Tina Howard from Domtar. As the largest integrated manufacturer and marketer of uncoated freesheet paper in North America, Domtar has a special interest in paper recycling. Today Tina shares with us the origins of the recycling logo and history of Earth Day. 

With Earth Day upon us, we’re investigating the origin of one of the most ubiquitous “green” logos in existence—the universal recycling symbol. You see this environmental symbol every day, but did you know it has roots tracing back to both the forest products industry and Earth Day?

The logo’s three “chasing arrows” appear on everything from copy paper to aluminum cans, and it enjoys high recognition throughout North America. In fact, a recent Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) Global survey of Americans’ attitudes and knowledge on sustainability concluded that 83 percent of respondents recognize the symbol.

The man behind the green arrows

But many people are surprised that the man responsible for one of the world’s most recognized logos never truly profited from his work. In fact, Gary Anderson, an engineering student at the University of Southern California, was just 23 years old when he created the iconic symbol in 1970.

To celebrate the very first Earth Day, which was being celebrated that year, Anderson entered a design competition held by the Container Corporation of America meant to promote paper recycling as an effective method of conserving natural resources.

According to Anderson, inspiration for the three-dimensional aspect of the folded arrows came from a field trip he took in elementary school to a newspaper office, where he saw how paper was “fed over rollers as it was printed.”

When it was all said and done, Anderson received only about $2,000 as compensation for winning the design competition. His symbol was then entered into the public domain, making it free for anyone to use. The rest, as they say, is history.

Paper and sustainability

Today, more than 300,000 American small businesses depend on paper products like direct mail to reach their customers and prospects. That’s because, after hundreds of years and countless innovations—from postcards, magazines and catalogs to email marketing and social media—paper still works. And better yet, it remains an environmentally responsible choice.

Paper stems from a renewable resource, and when sourced responsibly from independently certified forests, it gives organizations a way to demonstrate their support for local economies, wildlife and the long-term health of these valuable ecosystems.

Additionally, after its intended use, paper remains one of the most recycled products on the planet. In fact, according to the EPA, more paper and paperboard packaging is recovered from the waste stream than glass, plastic, steel and aluminum combined. In 2013, Americans recycled over 63% of the paper products they used, nearly double the recovery rate in 1990.

Earth Day, nearly a half century later

Environmental sustainability is as important today as it was back in 1970 when Anderson created the famed universal recycling logo. So as you celebrate this year, take a minute to remember the origins of his symbol and its connection to both the forest products industry and the first Earth Day held 45 years ago today.

link https://www.iwco.com/blog/2015/04/22/history-of-earth-day-and-recycling-logo/
Tina Howard


Tina Howard

Director of Sales, Converting & Technical Papers at Domtar. A graduate of Daniel Webster College with more than 20 years of industry experience, Tina knows that new customers are worth much more than the price of postage. She believes in the value of paper in direct marketing because, aside from being sustainable, it remains an effective, efficient and targeted strategy — even in the digital age.

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