Why should we buy recycled products?
One of the most immediate recycling challenges today is to educate consumers about the benefits of buying products made from recycled materials. Manufacturing is driven by the marketplace. Buying recycled content products creates long-term markets for recyclable materials and increases recycling program revenues. If demand exists for recycled content products, manufacturers will produce recycled products.
Some of the Benefits of Buying Recycled Products...
SAVES NATURAL RESOURCES - By making products with recycled materials instead of virgin materials, we conserve land and reduce the need to drill for oil, dig for minerals, and harvest trees.
SAVES ENERGY - It usually takes less energy to make recycled products; producing aluminum by recycling, for example, takes 95% less energy than producing new aluminum from bauxite ore.
SAVES CLEAN AIR AND WATER - Using recycled rather than virgin materials reduces the amount of pollutants emitted during resource acquisition and processing, and product manufacturing.
SAVES LANDFILL SPACE - When the materials that you recycle go into new products, they don't go into landfills, so landfill space is saved.
SAVES MONEY AND CREATES JOBS - The recycling process creates more jobs than landfills or incinerators, and recycling can frequently be the least expensive waste management method for cities and towns.
What is a recycled product?
A recycled product is a product made in whole or in part from material recovered from the waste stream. Many "recycled products" contain less than 100% recovered materials. Therefore, they are more accurately referred to as recycled content products. Examples include a rebuilt or remanufactured commodity, such as a remanufactured laser toner cartridge, recycled paper, and recycled plastic lumber.
What is the difference between postconsumer, preconsumer, and recovered materials?
Recycled content products are often labeled with percentages of postconsumer and recovered material.
Postconsumer material is a material or a finished product that has served its intended use and then is diverted or recovered before it is disposed. It is the material consumers and businesses recycle; it does not include manufacturers waste that is commonly reused in the original manufacturing process. Postconsumer material is part of the broader category of recovered material.
Preconsumer material is material that is recycled before it is used by a consumer. For example, paper mill scraps that are recycled at a paper mill.
Recovered materials are waste materials and byproducts that have been recovered or diverted from solid waste landfills, but do not include those materials and byproducts generated from, and commonly reused within, an original manufacturing process. For example, steel scrap from an automobile plant that is recycled and made into steel beams is recovered material, but scrap paper that is recycled again in the paper mill is not.
Does EPA regulate the labeling of products as recycled?
EPA does not regulate this; the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) handles claims that products may be improperly labeled. From the FTC:
Does EPA recommend the purchase of recycled content products?
Yes, but EPA does not endorse any particular product. EPA has expanded the government "buy recycled" program by designating a total of 54 recycled content items. Eleven additional items are currently under review. All product proposals and recommendations are published in the Federal Register and public comments are accepted. EPA evaluates six primary concerns when examining products for designation:
1. use of materials found in the solid waste stream
2. economic and technological feasibility and performance
3. impact of government procurement
4. availability of competition
5. other uses for recovered materials
6. other considerations
What recycled content products are available? There are many high quality recycled products. Some example include:
Office Equipment and Supplies
Copier and printer papers
Pens and pencils
Packing and Shipping Products
Building and Construction
Steel framing for construction
Clothes made from recycled
Clothes made from recycled
plastic soda bottles
Re-refined motor oil
Cars (the average car has 44% recycled steel content)
Gardening and Yard Supplies
Mulch and compost
General Services Administration -- Recycled Content Products
State/County/NGO Purchasing Resources
How can I propose a recycled content product for EPA review?
To propose a recycled content product be considered for designation
by EPA go to the Comprehensive Procurement Guideline Program at
How do I "buy recycled"?
These products almost always have a high percentage of recycled content even though they may not be labeled "recycled":
Steel, including food cans, bicycles, nails, appliances
Aluminum, including beverage cans
Glass bottles and jars
Molded pulp containers, including cardboard egg cartons and fruit trays
Paper products - cereal, cake mix, and cracker boxes; toilet paper;
paper towels; cardboard boxes; writing paper; greeting cards; copier
and printer paper; and office paper products.
Plastic Bottles - bottles and jugs containing laundry detergent, dish
washing liquids, shampoos, and household cleaners.
Read the Label
Labels may state that a product is "recyclable" or can be recycled; however this does not mean that it contains recycled content. Look for the highest percentage of "postconsumer recycled content." (Postconsumer is the material consumers and businesses recycle; it doesn't include manufacturers' waste that is commonly reused in the original manufacturing process). These products may or may not be made with recycled content, so be sure to read the label:
Are there any regulations on buying recycled content products?
Executive Order 13101 , Greening of the Government through Waste Prevention, Recycling, and Federal Acquisition," requires federal agencies to buy recycled and "environmentally preferable" products.
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act section 6002 requires procuring agencies that spend more than $10,000 a year on an item to buy products containing recovered materials. Procuring agencies are federal, state, and local agencies and their contractors. For federal agencies, the $10,000 threshold applies to all purchases made by an entire agency rather than local or regional offices (e.g., Department of Interior, Department of Defense, etc.). If a state or county agency spends more than $10,000 a year on an EPA-designated item, and part of that money is from appropriated federal funds, then the agency must purchase that item made from recovered materials. Agencies may elect not to purchase designated items when: the cost is unreasonable; inadequate competition exists; items are not available within a reasonable period of time; or items do not meet the agencies reasonable performance specifications.
What is the federal government doing to promote buying recycled?
EPA's Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG) program is part of EPA's continuing effort to promote the use of materials recovered from solid waste. EPA's Environmentally Preferable Products Program (EPP) is a federal-wide program that encourages and assists Executive agencies to purchase environmentally preferable products and services. Office of the Federal Environmental Executive advocates, coordinates, and assists environmental efforts in the Federal community in waste prevention, recycling, the affirmative procurement of guideline items and the acquisition of environmentally preferable products and services. Planet GSA promotes the U.S. General Services Administration's commitment to be a responsible environmental steward.
The EPA Region 3 Solid Waste Program Team is available to assist federal facilities in Region 3 in complying with the provisions of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Section 6002 and Executive Order 13101 Greening the Government Through Waste Prevention, Recycling, and Federal Acquisition. RCRA Section 6002 establishes a buy recycled program, and the purpose of Executive Order 13101 is to improve the Federal government's waste prevention, recycling, and acquisition of recycled content products and environmentally preferable products and services. One goal of the Region 3 Solid Waste Program Team is to increase federal facilities compliance with their required purchasing of green products and services. EPA is available to assist federal facilities in this regard. Please e-mail or telephone Mike Giuranna at 215-814-3298 with any questions regarding this program, for a list of EPA-designated recycled-content items or for assistance in identifying suppliers of these items in your area.
How can I get more information about buying recycled products?
For More Information contact the following Web sites:
EPA Office of Solid Waste Comprehensive
Office of the Federal Environmental Executive
EPA Environmentally Preferable Purchasing
National Association of State Purchasing Officials
California Integrated Waste Management Board Recycled Products Database
The documents found above are free of charge and may be ordered via the Internet or by calling the RCRA Hotline at 1-800-424-9346 To order Ask for It Buy It Recycled, October 1998 (EPA909-F-98-002), a purchasing guide for federal facilities, call Margie Carr at (415) 744-2134.
For Executive Order 13101 (63 FR 49641), September 16, 1998, go to http://www.ofee.gov/ or call the Executive Office of the President Publications Distribution Center at (202) 395-7332..