The Chasing Arrows Recycling Logo – The Biggest Greenwash Label of Them All?

In recent years, after the initial honeymoon of broader consumer interest in all things green, it’s now settled squarely in the space of “prove it to me.” Yet proving something’s greenness, sustainability, fair trade status, organic certification, carbon footprint has resulted in a dust storm of competing certifications, labels, very few of which are gaining traction with the public as credible or recognizable. For all they know, the company could be making it up, doing it themselves, or something similarly “greenwashy”.

And yet, right under our nose is perhaps the most deceptive label of all: the chasing arrows “recycling” symbol.

You know, the triangular shaped graphic with the number 1 to 7 inside. Much like labeling a fruit cholesterol free, it has become at best largely meaningless and at worst deceptive. What am I talking about? The fact that for the majority of categories, 3 and beyond generally, most recyclers don’t process them.

Yes, technically, somebody somewhere may recycle these materials. But in our cash strapped, lower demand for recycled materials market, there’s just not the incentive and ability to do so.

But companies, whether consciously or unconsciously, are allowing you to continue thinking your buying a product from a company that is more ecologically conscious than it is. And that’s damaging, in a few different ways: Directly to the recycling processors who have to spend countless hours either manually sorting through what comes to them, or missing the materials that are of a different kind than their system handles.

Sooner or later, the general public will become aware of this lack of recycling happening, and will have even more distrust for supposed green products and product claims.

What can be done about this? A few things: Be clear on the packaging, right on or near the logo that this category of material may be less likely to be recyclable. Or even simpler, remove the chasing arrows part of the graphic, with only the number remaining. It’s definitely a useful classification tool for product producers and recyclers, but the arrows are for the most part useless.

Will companies protest? Probably. It’s an easy way to look greener without doing anything different. Tough, I say, take the time to make a product that is either truly more sustainable, or be honest and let your product stand on its other merits. In the end it will be more beneficial to all, whether it’s people’s perception of your integrity, money and time saved on the recycler end, and ultimately, companies exploring creating more packaging that is more likely to actually be recycled.

You can do it. We’re counting on you. Do you see any other ways to address this faux recycling issue?

Tom Szaky is the Founder and CEO of TerraCycle, Inc. a company that makes eco-revolutionary products entirely from garbage! TerraCycle, since its humble beginnings in a Princeton University dorm room, is committed to being a triple bottom line company. Tom at the ancient age of 19 learned about composting with worms. The concept of using tiny little worms to turn food waste into a powerful, organic fertilizer fascinated Tom, who was appalled by the amount of food discarded by his campus's cafeteria. Tom started TerraCycle with no investors from a friend's garage by building a Worm Gin where he could house millions of worms in a small area. He all but bankrupted himself and maxed out all his credit cards to build the machine. With the help of friends he would shovel pounds of rotten, maggot-infested food from the Princeton cafeterias. Without any money left over, Tom could not afford to buy bottles to package his fertilizer. That's when the sustainability gods smiled on Tom, who was up one night wandering the streets Princeton in search of an answer to his packaging dilemma. It just happened to be recycling night and Tom realized that millions of homes were putting billions of free bottles out on the curb once a week! That serendipitous moment set everything to follow into motion. Slowly he began to finance his infantile start up by winning business plan contests. Finally he hit the pay dirt! He won the million dollar grand prize at the Carrot Capital Business plan contest. However, the financiers of the contest wanted to move TerraCycle away from used bottles and away from it's environmental focus. Despite being on the verge of bankruptcy, Tom turned down the money. In the six years since then TerraCycle has grown to a multi-million dollar company that doubles in size every year. Still we are committed to our triple bottom line beginnings. Still making our products from other's people waste. Still based in an Urban Enterprise Zone in Trenton, NJ. Still a second chance employer. Find out how and why, here at