Types of Recycled Items

“Made from x% recycled material.”

This phrase is showing up more and more frequently with the rise of the cultural phenomenon of “going green.”As consumers become more caught up in the “green” mindset, they’re probably more likely to choose a product – all else being equal – over another product that doesn’t boast the phrase.

But what does this phrase mean exactly?

There are two phrases commonly found: “pre-consumer recycled content,” “post-consumer recycled content” and “recycled content.” I wasn’t actually aware of the difference until my mom told me about it.

Pre-consumer content: This is material that comes as a waste of the production process and otherwise would be sent to the landfill. It is not the typical type of “recycled” most people think they are buying.

Post-consumer content: This is the type of recycled material that most people think they are buying. It is material that has already been used once, sent to the recycling center, and been transformed into a new product.

Recycled content: Generally comprises a mix of both pre and post consumer content. Because this type of content is made of both pre and post-consumer materials, the total percentage is often much higher than the “post-consumer content” percentage. Therefore, this higher number is advertised more to encourage buyers to choose their product.

While it is good that companies are using their production wastes and transforming parts of them into new products, this lingo – the difference between “(pre-consumer) recycled content” and “post-consumer recycled content” – is often confused. To me, it seems more like a marketing scheme than a true benefit to the environment. Thus, the real number that you want to look for is the post-consumer percentage – the real amount that has been reused.

References:

http://www.epa.gov/waste/conserve/rrr/buyrecycled.htm

http://green-behavior.com/buzzword-patrol/post-consumer-pre-consumer-recycled-content.htm

http://www.metro-region.org/index.cfm/go/by.web/id=3369
http://www.greenerdesign.com/blog/2009/01/12/staples-eco-friendly-packaging-thats-not-easy

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