Minnesota Recycled Products Directory: Symbols

The "recycling symbol" — also known as the "chasing arrows" or the "Möbius loop" — has become a widely recognized symbol that consumers associate with recycling. Unfortunately, as this icon has grown in popularity, its use has been the cause for some serious confusion. What do the chasing arrows really mean?

Here's some background about the symbol's original development, as well as examples of other uses for the "chasing arrows."

It started with Earth Day 1970

Container Corporation of America was a major producer of recycled paperboard and heavily involved in waste paper collection. In the late 1960s, the company identified a marketing opportunity to promote the benefits of its products in response to the emerging environmental consciousness taking hold in America.

As a special event for the original Earth Day in 1970, they sponsored a contest for graphic art students to design a symbol representing paper recycling — more than a thousand entries were submitted. The winning entry was submitted by Gary Anderson, an art student at the University of California at Berkeley. It was modified into the now familiar "chasing arrows" design by William Lloyd, Container Corporation's manager of design.

Two Versions, Two Meanings

The symbol's original versions

Made from recycled material.

Material can be recycled.

Originally, two versions of the symbol were created to convey two different messages.

  • Solid arrows within a black circle designated that the box or container was made from recycled paperboard.
  • Another version, where the arrows appear in outline, meant that the box or container was recyclable.

Container Corporation applied for registration of the symbol as a service mark, and for a nominal fee, licensed its use to other recycled paperboard manufacturers and to related industry associations such as the American Paper Institute (API) and the Corrugated Box Manufacturers Association. The symbol quickly became the centerpiece of an ongoing campaign to promote the use of recycled paperboard.

A now-defunct New York environmental group challenged the service mark registration application on the basis that the symbol would create consumer confusion. Container Corporation subsequently dropped the registration application and allowed the symbol to enter the public domain.

So, what does it mean?

Today, the original symbol and the many versions it has inspired have entered the public domain. They are freely used as generic recycling labels. Sometimes the three chasing arrows appear against a green background, stand alone without a circle, or show up reversed-out or upside down. Some versions of the symbol include words, codes, logos, or other symbols.

  • By itself, the symbol does not provide information about a product's "recyclability" or give you details about a particular type or amount of recycled content in a product. Look for more substantial claims about what the symbol means on a product or its packaging.
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers a substantial amount of guidance to manufacturers, retailers and marketers on
  • Consumers can get a better handle on understanding the terms by reading

source: Recycled Paper News

Other symbols

Society of the Plastics Industry
Plastic Resin Code
In 1988, the Society of the Plastics Industry introduced a coding system for plastics, the SPI Resin Identification Code. This code was intended to help consumers and recyclers identify the six main types of plastic resins that are found in products and packaging.

Although the symbol they chose incorporates the "chasing arrows," this symbol does not mean that a package or product is "recyclable" or made with recycled content.

There is a lot of consumer confusion about what kinds of plastics are recyclable. The best guidance you can get is finding out what is accepted for recycling by your recycling program. — they will be able to explain what they collect. A material isn't really "recyclable" unless there is someone who will collect it, and a party who can use it to make something from the collected material.

American Forest and Paper Association
Recycled PaperThe American Forest and Paper Association continues to promote the chasing arrows symbol for paper products made from recovered paper. To ensure a consistent message for consumers, they strongly encourage their members to use the symbol according to their guidelines. This includes listing the amount of recycled material used, and clearly identifying what contains recycled content — the product or the package. These symbols may be used freely.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Fluorescent BulbsThis logo was developed as a tool to publicize and promote the recycling of fluorescent tubes and bulbs. In 1995, the MPCA paid for the logo using grant funding from the U.S. EPA, and introduced it into the public domain so that it may be used freely.

National Oil Recyclers Association Motor OilThis logo was developed to promote the recycling of used motor oil. The National Oil Recyclers Association wants to help stop the improper disposal of nearly 300 million gallons of used oil each year.

Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance
Reduce,This collection of logos was developed by the OEA to make the ideas of waste reduction and reuse as recognizable as recycling. The symbol for "reduce" has the chasing arrows getting smaller, while "reuse" takes on the shape of the symbol for infinity, reinforcing the message of using something over and over. These symbols were developed by the OEA, and may be used freely for educational purposes.

Corrugated Packaging Council
Corrugated CardboardThe corrugated cardboard industry created their "Corrugated Recycles" symbol to identify their products as readily recyclable. Their symbol doesn't actually use the "chasing arrows" in the shape of a triangle, but it does suggest the idea of "closing the loop" by recycling their product. The toll-free number helps consumers find out more about recycling corrugated cardboard. This symbol may be used at no charge.

100% Recycled Paperboard Alliance
100% Recycled PaperboardThe paper industry helped drive the use of the "chasing arrows" as the symbol for recycled products. To help consumers clearly identify products and packaging made from 100% recycled paperboard, the 100% Recycled Paperboard Alliance created this new symbol in 1995. Today, it appears on thousands of brand name and private label products found on store shelves nationwide. The symbol is licensed, but may be used on products made from 100% recycled paperboard.

Recycled Paperboard
Recycled PaperboardThis representation of chasing arrows was found on an egg carton made with 100% reclaimed paper. Molded pulp products such as this are often made with very short wood fibers that come from paper that has been previously recycled or processed.