Being environmentally conscious is essential to the continued health and survival of our planet. Manufactures and consumers alike have realized this, and today the number of different environmentally friendly labels on the products and packaging on store shelves is astounding. One label to watch for is the percentage of post-consumer content in a product. When asked to explain post-consumer content, it is generally defined as materials from products that were used by consumers or businesses, which would otherwise have been discarded as waste.
Pre-Consumer v. Post-Consumer Content
Post-consumer implies materials or finished products that have been diverted or recovered from the waste stream. These materials have been used and/or recycled as much as possible, and have completed their life as a consumer item. Post-consumer content is usually generated by households, commercial, industrial and/or institutional facilities. It includes products that can no longer be used or repurposed. These materials are then broken down and processed into different products.
Pre-consumer content is waste produced in the manufacturing process, such as manufacturing scrap, trimmings and cuttings, and is discarded before it is ready for consumer use. Pre-consumer waste can be reintroduced back into the manufacturing process, has been commonly used by industries for many years, and does not actually count as recycled material. In some cases, pre-consumer material can be recycled, however, there is usually a financial incentive for the manufacturer.
It is generally considered better for the environment to purchase items made with post-consumer materials than purchasing items made with pre-consumer materials. Buying products made with post-consumer content directly diverts the materials from heading to a landfill, whereas pre-consumer content may still have some useful life, or it can be recycled.
Types of Post-Consumer Content
After reviewing the explanation of post-consumer content, you may be surprised to find out that many of the items that make up this type of material can generally be found in your trash can. Examples include:
- Packaging materials, magazines, catalogs, junk mail
- Clothes and shoes that are stained, torn or no longer wearable
- Old tires
- Dead batteries
- Burned out light bulbs
- Old or broken electronics
- All materials in your recycling bins
These items contain valuable resources and can be broken down, and recreated into completely new products.
How to Purchase
Buying products made with post-consumer content supports local recycling programs. By creating a demand for these types of products we then encourage manufactures to take the needed steps to make more environmentally-friendly items. When purchasing a product made with post-consumer content it will feature the three chasing arrows recycling symbol and state the percentage of post-consumer content contained in the product or packaging.
Instead of using the Earth’s valuable natural resources, your purchase will strengthen the market for recycled materials. Check your labels and do your part in helping the environment by choosing a product that has a high percentage of post-consumer content.
Federal Trade Commission – Sorting Out ‘Green’ Advertising Claims: https://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/general/gen02.shtm
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – Buy Recycled: https://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/rrr/buyrecycled.htm
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