What is environmentally preferable 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.?
Environmentally preferable goods and services have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with goods and services that serve the same purpose. Questions to ask before purchasing a product include:
- Is the product less hazardous?
- Is it reusable or more durable?
- Is it made from recycled materials?
- What happens to the product at the end of its life? Can it be recycled? Will the manufacturer take the product back? Will it need special disposal?
- Does it conserve energy or water?
- Is it made from plant-based raw materials?
Depending upon which product you are buying, all or only a few of these questions will apply. One challenge in buying wisely is knowing which questions to ask. With the EPP Guide putting environmental issues in context, asking these questions will become second nature.
Why is environmentally preferable purchasing important?The purchase and use of 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. can have a profound impact - and not just on the environment. From worker safety to budget savings, responsible purchasing has a number of additional tangible benefits:
- Buying less-hazardous products can reduce regulatory liability, improve worker safety, and lower disposal costs.
- Using energy-efficient and water-conserving products can save money.
- Products that are reusable, refillable, more durable, or repairable create less waste and are more cost-effective in the long run than disposable or single-use products.
- Buying recycled products keeps our home and workplace recycling programs going and saves natural resources.
State and Federal laws support environmentally preferable purchasing
Federal and state laws support or require environmentally preferable purchasing by the public sector. Designed to show that government can lead by example, these laws help pave the way for more options in the marketplace for consumers and businesses. Minnesota laws focus on buying recycled paper, less toxic products, and reusable and durable products.
Federal Executive Order 13423 requires that federal agencies aquire biobased, environmentally preferable, energy efficient, water efficient, and recycled contentThe portion of a product that is made from materials diverted from the waste stream, usually stated as a percentage by weight. products. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued the federal Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG) to assist agencies in following the Executive Order. Through the CPG, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 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 purchasing certain items using federal funds.
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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.
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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, 2008 - 9:19am