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Tips for Buying "Green" with the Government Credit Card

As published by the EPA in January 2000.

Assuring that your purchases comply with environmental laws and EPA's policies.

You have the opportunity to help the environment while buying products that meet your program's needs. President Clinton has directed federal agencies to buy products that are made with recycled content, have less packaging, are energy efficient, don't create hazardous waste, and incorporate other environmentally preferable attributes. As you use the government credit card, you can help EPA meet this commitment.

Here's how:


EPA designates recycled content products that government agencies must buy. For products which have been designated by EPA, you must buy those which contain recycled content as long as they are available, meet your performance needs, and are cost-competitive. EPA recommends the required minimum percentage of recycled content that the products you buy should contain. A table of recycled content percentages as of 1/19/00 is included in this manual as an appendix.

Whatever your job, it is likely that you will be asked to order a product which has been designated by EPA. Supply Clerks, Secretaries and Administrative Officers order copy paper, file folders, remanufactured toner cartridges, writing tablets, envelopes, plastic office supplies, shipping and mailing products, awards and plaques, and other products we typically use every day. Fleet managers and users of fleet vehicles purchase automotive products like motor oil, tires, and engine coolant. On-Scene Coordinators may buy spill containment products. Employees in Facilities or Safety and Environmental Compliance may buy signs, pallets, parking stops, traffic cones and barrels to control traffic flow in our parking lots, park benches and picnic tables, and certain other building and landscaping products. All of these products can be made with recycled content and you can find most of them in the General Services Administration's (GSA) "Environmental Products Guide" Exit Disclaimer. Manufacturers, suppliers, and helpful national specifications can also be identified at EPA's Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines Web site.

Terminology ...

Recycled content products contain "recovered materials" or "postconsumer materials" or both. "Recovered materials" means materials that have been removed or diverted from solid waste - in other words, trash - including solid waste created by manufacturers. "Postconsumer materials" are materials that we discard at home and at work that are separated or diverted for recycling instead of going to a landfill.

In the case of paper products, President Clinton requires Federal agencies to purchase products containing 30% postconsumer material beginning January 1, 1999. Paper products containing 30% postconsumer materials will be available from GSA's schedule and stock programs.

Reduced Packaging

Packaging is a significant solid waste problem. EPA estimates that packaging alone accounted for 23.7 % of the volume and 19.4% of the weight of the material that went to municipal landfills in 1996. We can reduce the amount of trash we generate by buying products with reduced packaging. For example, if you can purchase pads of paper that are not wrapped in plastic shrink wrap, you will not have to throw away the plastic. Also consider buying a larger quantity packaged in a single box rather than smaller quantities in multiple boxes.

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Energy Efficiency

When buying products that use energy (computers, copiers, fax machines, multitasking devices, document scanners, TV/VCRs, refrigerators, etc.), look for the Energy Star label, which tells you that the product is energy efficient. Check EPA's Energy Star Products web site at or call the Department of Energy's Federal Energy Management Program for the latest recommended levels of energy efficiency for different products - 1-800-DOE-EREC or 1-800-363-3632. Fedcenter.com, an e-commerce site that you can purchase a variety of goods and services through, will identify and allow you to purchase the EnergyStar product options available to you. Indicate that you want to see EnergyStar products via their Search section, or look at the "EnergyStar compliant" column in the "Compare Products" section of their site.

Hazardous Materials and Toxic Chemicals

Ask if the product contains hazardous materials or toxic chemicals. Examples include cleaning products containing petroleum-based solvents or acids, and paints (some contain chromate or volatile organic compounds). GSA's "Environmental Products Guide" includes information provided by vendors to help you choose a more environmentally preferable alternative to many of these products.

Battery-operated portable electronic devices such as cell phones, laptop computers, walkie-talkies, and tools often use rechargeable Ni-Cd batteries which contain cadmium, a hazardous material. If you buy products with Ni-Cd batteries, ask for batteries with the Battery Recycling Seal (see graphic).

Advise the person who will be using the product that Ni-Cd batteries must be recycled at the end of their useful life so they don't end up in a landfill. They should contact their safety/environmental compliance manager for assistance. Information for consumers on how and where to recycle their used Ni-Cd batteries is also available through a toll-free number: 1-800-822-8837.

There are other situations where you may have to buy products with hazardous materials, such as laboratory chemicals. Notify your facility safety or environmental compliance manager before you purchase the item. If this is a new chemical at the facility, they may require you to get a Material Safety Data Sheet. Or there may be special worker safety, recycling or disposal procedures that you will need to follow.

In summary, when buying products, consider the following environmental criteria:

  • Heavy metals (e.g. lead, mercury, cadmium)
  • Ozone depleting chlorinated compounds (e.g. CFCs)
  • Organic solvents (e.g. chlorinated and aromatichydrocarbons
  • Reactivity, corrosiveness, flammability, irritationpotential
  • Carcinogens, mutagens, teratogens
  • Acute and chronic toxicity
  • Substances that can bioaccumulate
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Phosphorous
  • Postconsumer recycled content
  • Reusability/repairability
  • Reduction in packaging
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Use of renewable energy sources
  • Biobased products
  • Biodegradability upon disposal

A good source for this information is EPA's Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program's Database of environmental information on products and services.. In addition, vendors are often happy to provide this information on their products.

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Resources to help you make more environmentally preferable purchasing choices:

Listed below are some website addresses and telephone numbers of selected vendors that offer products with good environmental features. The following also references resources containing general green purchasing and product information. (Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of companies and EPA in no way endorses their products.)

Environmental Office Products

Buy Green Homepage Exit Disclaimer
Provides links to numerous resources.

Rainbow Eco Specialties -- Carriers of the National Recycling Coalition Recycled Content Product Line
Office and school supplies including recycled-content products, agricultural-based products, solar products, and less toxic products

Green Earth Office Supply Exit Disclaimer
Its product offerings include recycled-content products, agricultural based products, solar products, less toxic products and cruelty-free products.

Ecomall Office Products Exit Disclaimer
Ecomall contains links to sites that sell traditional office products with recycled content, high quality recycled diskettes, energy-efficient lighting products, etc.

Full Circle Paper Outlet Exit Disclaimer
(919) 309-0811

Green Office Information/ Buying Guides

Working Your Way to a Green Office Exit Disclaimer
General product information, product list, as well as green buying information

Green Seal
(202) 331-7337
Office Green Buying Guide

Green Office Magazine
E-mail: greenoffice@msn.com
Office Furniture information.

***Product attribute claims should be carefully examined to make sure they are consistent with the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims. In general, be skeptical of broad claims that the product is "environmentally safe," "environmentally friendly" or "non-toxic" unless the manufacturer can back up the claim with actual documentation. The EPP Web site has a helpful brochure describing the FTC guidelines. There you will also find many examples of advertising language to help you understand how to evaluate advertising claims.

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Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines
(This section was updated in April 2008.)

EPA's CPG program provides recycled-content recommendations for lists of designated products. EPA has already designated or is proposing to designate products grouped into the following eight categories:

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