Recycled Content: What Does That Mean?

Making Sense of Recycled Marketing Claims

Creative Commons License photo credit: Rubbermaid Products

Hey responsible shoppers! I’m absolutely confident that RecycleScene readers try and choose products made with as much recycled content as possible when shopping, right? Well it’s always nice to know that when products say they’re made with recycled content, they’re…um… actually made with recycled content! That’s where the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) comes in. They have put together the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims or Green Guides.

These guides protect us consumers from potentially misleading marketing claims about whether products (and their packaging) are recyclable and whether they contain recyclable materials. This is also why you’ll see a % of recycled material rather than just a “recycled content” label. This is obviously important stuff, since you don’t want to be tricked into spending money on something that you think is recycled or recyclable when that could be a dubious claim.

Do You Know The Difference? Pre-Consumer vs Post-Consumer

Did you know that not all recycled content is equal? There are two kinds of recycled content: pre-consumer and post-consumer. Post-consumer content is the kind most of us might be used to thinking of. An aluminum can is a perfect example. You go out and buy a soda, drink it, drop it in a recycling bin, and it’s picked up, melted down, and re-formed into a new can which you can then go out and buy again. Any product that is purchased, then used by us consumers, then re-made into a new product is post-consumer recycled content.

Pre-consumer recycled content, on the other hand, is when for example, a paper or textile factory makes their products from raw materials, but ends up with scraps or trimmings on the manufacturing room floor. Those scraps could potentially be thrown away, but if they’re re-used to make another product, then that product is considered to be made from pre-consumer recycled content. It’s important that these scraps don’t end up in the trash, but re-using those scraps makes sense economically as well as environmentally. And perhaps a standard industry practice like re-using scraps allows them to charge a little more for their “recycled content” product. Don’t forget that it’s technically raw materials used to make the product from which those scraps were produced. For this reason, if I had to choose, I would go with post-consumer recycled content products before I chose pre-consumer recycled products. But ANY recycled content is better than none!

Your Opinion Counts!

So now you know just what you’re getting when you buy a product with recycled content, and that’s partly thanks to the FTC. And this is where your opinion counts. The FTC is revising the guidelines and is looking for comments and suggestions. The deadline to submit comments is December 10, 2010 so take some time and check out the Green Guides. It’s got all kinds of helpful examples on what kind of language is considered misleading or not.

For more recycling terms and definitions, check out the RecycLingo page.

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