Hint: we all make multiple contacts with different versions of his creation on a daily basis. Hint #2: some people revere his work and strictly adhere to it while others completely ignore it. Final Hint – his work was first displayed 41 years ago at the very first Earth Day.
Gary Dean Anderson is a graphic designer and architect who in 1970 at the age of 23 created one of the most recognized symbols known throughout the world. Gary designed the original recycling symbol that is still in use today in thousands of variations and on millions of products.
What the Recycling Symbol Means
Today manufacturers of products and packaging proudly display this symbol to let people know that the item the symbol appears on is recyclable. To make it even more useful, many of these symbols now include detail to direct how the product it appears on can be sorted, recycled and ultimately reused. The plastics industry for example has added a series of numbers in combination with the recycling symbol, informing people that #1 is PETE, #2 is HDPE, #3 is PVC, etc. However, the number identifies the specific resin type originally used to determine how it can be more efficiently re-pelletized and used to make a new product from that resin base.
What the Recycling Symbol Is Not
The symbol does not indicate the recycled content of the product or packaging it is printed on. I’ve run into this common misconception several times, when a prospective customer assumes that a product is made of recycled content because the recycling logo appears on it.
Another way of putting it is that the recycling logo tells us where a product can end up, not necessarily where it comes from. A product may consist of recycled content and it may be recyclable as well but one can be true and not the other.
For FedEx, 4 + 2= 7
I’m a graphic designer, not a mathematician, could be Gary Dean Anderson’s unlikely response but the attached photo shows how even a large, well intentioned company may not always “get it.” The bubble lined padded FedEx envelope shown in the photo recently arrived in our office.
It clearly shows the now familiar version of Gary’s work with a #2 indicating it is made of HDPE (probably the outer layer) which is near the top of the plastic recycling ladder, second only to #1, PETE.
Quite unusually, the mailer also shows a #4 LDPE recycling code (probably the inner, bubble layer) which is slightly less desirable than its over achieving cousin, #2 HDPE.
The problem, of course, is that on this mailer envelope, the two dissimilar materials are laminated together so the mailer can only be recycled as a #7 which is in most cases the mongrel mutt of the recycled plastics family. So in this case, four plus two most definitely results in seven and the two recycled symbols on this mailer are not only confusing, they are also inaccurate.
Recycling is the Key to Future Earth Days
With rare exception recycling a product is always more economical than creating a new one out of raw materials. Corrugated board is a great example because when you make new boxes out of old ones, you leave behind a substantially smaller carbon and water footprint; according to some sources, as much as 40% smaller. Similar environmental benefits result from recycling plastic, glass, and aluminum.
Our future may depend on how we address our waste problem and recycling is sure to become an increasingly important part of the solution. I still don’t know why we do not have a consistent and comprehensive national recycling policy but using Gary Dean Anderson’s recycling logo correctly is a good start.
Happy Earth Day!
Dennis writes in the area of sustainable packaging with his work appearing in numerous blogs and magazines, including his own blog, Inside Sustainable Packaging. Dennis and his company provide custom eco friendly packaging solutions through Salazar Packaging and stock green packaging products via GlobeGuardProducts, which is the first internet store featuring all eco-friendly packaging supplies. Recently Dennis also made news by launching GreenPackagingGroup, which is a B2B packaging blog and directory for eco-minded buyers. He is president and co-founder of Salazar Packaging.