Identifying Recycled-Content Products
Check the contentsFinding products made from recycled materials can be easy. Try to select products with the highest recycled contentThe portion of a product that is made from materials diverted from the waste stream, usually stated as a percentage by weight. - this means the biggest gain for the environment.
Extensive help is available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As required by Federal Executive Order 13101Entitled Greening the Government Through Waste Prevention, Recycling, and Federal Acquisition, Executive Order (E.O.) 13101 was signed by the President on September 14, 1998. This Order replaces E.O. 12873 and reinforces the federal government's efforts to buy recycled products and other environmentally preferable products. E.O. 13101 establishes a process for amending the Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG) originally promulgated under E.O. 12873. E.O. 13101 requires the U.S. environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to amend the CPG every two years or as appropriate. The Order also requires EPA to issue Recovered Materials Advisory Notices concurrent with the CPG amendments, and to update them periodically. Recovered Materials Advisory Notices (RMANs) provide purchasing guidance and recommend recovered and post-consumer material content levels for designated items. RMAN recommendations are guidance and therefore are not codified in the Code of Federal Regulations., the EPA issued a set of guidelines called the federal Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG) (Note: Executive Order 13101 has been superceded by Executive Order 13423). The CPG designates items that must contain recycled content when purchased by federal agencies, or by government contractors using appropriated federal funds. In some cases, state and local governments must also follow the recycled-content guidelines when purchasingThe act and the function of responsibility for the acquisition of equipment, materials, supplies, and services. In a narrow sense, the term describes the process of buying. In a broader sense, the term describes determining the need, selecting the supplier, arriving at a fair and reasonable price and terms, preparing the contract or purchase order, and following up to ensure timely delivery. certain items using federal funds. Even if not required to do so, everyone from local agencies to non-profits may find useful purchasing guidance in the CPG.
The EPA is required to update the CPG every few years. Last updated in September 2007, the CPG includes over 50 products. Products containing recycled content are listed under the following categories, along with manufacturers, vendors, and suppliers for each item:
- Construction Products
- Landscaping Products
- Non-paper Office Products
- Paper and Paper Products
- Park and Recreation Products
- Transportation Products
- Vehicular Products
- Miscellaneous Products
For each category, the EPA recommends content levels for recycled-content products. These levels are divided into the recommended percentages of postconsumer content and total recovered materialsWaste materials and by-products that have been recovered or diverted from solid waste, but do not include materials and by-products generated from, and commonly reused within, an original manufacturing process. content. Understanding each type of content can help you make the best purchasing decisions:
- Postconsumer material means a material or finished product that has served its intended use and has been diverted or recovered from waste destined for disposal, having completed its life as a consumer item.
- Recovered material means waste materials and byproducts that have been recovered or diverted from solid waste, but does not include materials and byproducts generated from, and commonly reused within, an original manufacturing process. Postconsumer material is a subset of recovered material.
For a complete list of products and the EPA's recommended recycled-content level for each product, visit the Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines program website. A searchable online database of recycled-content product suppliers is also available.
The CPG web site features additional resources that are useful in identifying environmentally preferable productsGoods and services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with other goods and services that serve the same purpose.. Look for downloadable fact sheets in the "2007 Buy Recycled Series" which cover the following product areas: paper, non-paper office supplies, construction, landscaping, transportation, parks and recreation, and miscellaneous products. The EPA also issues guidance on buying recycled-content products in its Recovered Materials Advisory Notices (RMANs).
New recycled content products are being developed continuously. Government agencies and schools are encouraged to regularly ask their vendors about the availability of recycled products. To learn more about recycled content products, check the resources listed below.
The "Recycled Products Guide" from the Recycling Association of Minnesota provides information on the cost, quality, and availability of a wide variety of recycled content products.
The "Minnesota Recycled Products Directory" lists businesses that manufacture products with recycled materials in Minnesota. To search this on-line database of products, visit the Minnesota Recycled Products Directory web site.
Looking for Information on a Particular Material?
Using the Symbols
Less HazardousProducts containing hazardous chemicals can pose health risks to employees and the public, as well as threaten the environment. In addition, hazardous products often require special and costly waste disposal methods. Buy products that are labeled with none of the following signal words or those with the lowest level of hazard possible (but that still get the job done).
- Caution: mild to moderate hazard
- Warning: moderate hazard
- Danger: corrosive, extremely flammable, or highly toxic
- Poison: highly toxic
If less-hazardous alternatives are not readily available, use the least amount of a hazardous product needed to accomplish a task. Use up all of the product before throwing the container or packaging away.
Conserves EnergyReducing energy use is important because most energy production contributes to problems such as carbon dioxide emissions (tied to global warming), mercury releases, acid rain, volatile organic compounds, and nuclear waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy developed the Energy Star label to help purchasers identify energy-efficient products. These products reduce utility bills and help the environment.
Recycled ContentRecycled-content products save energy and resources, while also keeping waste out of landfills and incinerators. Recycled-content products can be made with post-consumer content, pre-consumer content, or a mix of both. Products made with post-consumer recycled content support our recycling programs at home and at work. If people do not buy products with post-consumer recycled content, manufacturers will no longer want the paper, cans, glass, or plastic we separate from trash. Pre-consumer content comes primarily from manufacturer scrap, and as such does not directly support such recycling efforts.
Prevents WasteMinnesota generates over 5 million tons of municipal solid waste annually, and this amount is increasing every year. Much of this waste comes from disposable and over-packaged products. Preventing waste can conserve natural resources and avoid the need to build new, expensive waste disposal facilities. You prevent waste when:
- Reducing the amount of material you buy to accomplish any task;
- Reusing a product in its original form; or
- Using repairable, refillable, or durable products.
Low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)VOCs evaporate ("volatilize") easily at room temperature and often have a sharp smell. They are contained in many products, such as office equipment, adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, manufactured wood products, paints, solvents, pesticides, and cleaning products. Some VOCs can cause cancer in certain situations, especially when they are concentrated indoors. When VOCs hit sunlight, they create ozone, an air pollutant harmful to both people and plants. Many low-VOC versions of products reduce risks to human health and the environment.
Conserves WaterLess than 1% of the Earth's water is available for human consumption. There is no "new" water on Earth. Dry spells have reminded us that our water supply can be threatened - even in the Land of 10,000 Lakes - resulting in watering bans in some municipalities. Choosing products and services that conserve water, such as automatic flushers and low-flow faucets and toilets, can conserve this vital resource while reducing water and sewer bills.
End of Life ManagementWhat happens to a product after we use it? Some materials cannot go in the trash because they are hazardous in some way and therefore need separate - and sometimes expensive - special management. Some products are more easily recycled than others that do the same job. Making wiser buying choices can prevent a disposal concern at the end of a product's useful life, keep hazardous materials out of the environment, and expand options for recycling and reuse.
Rollover to learn more or view the complete symbols list.
Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Guide published by the Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board, 4/00. The SWMCB includes members from the Minnesota metropolitan counties of Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, and Washington, with ex-officio members from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.Last Revised October 22, 2010 - 10:58am