Buying In

November 13, 1998

By Michael Jessen

If you're not buying recycled, you're not really recycling.

Most West Kootenay residents help the recycling effort by taking their recyclables to a drop-off centre. What many people don't realize is that there is another important step in recycling: buying materials made with recycled content.

Buying recycled is the third step in the recycling loop -- without it, you're not really recycling. By purchasing recycled-content products, you do your part to help maintain market demand for recyclables and ensure the continuation of recycling programs everywhere.

If consumers purchase more products with recycled content, manufacturers will continue to use it in their products and expand the usage to even more products.

No matter where you live, you probably have access to recycled-content products in your stores. The following four materials always have a significant amount of recycled content even though many such products are not often labelled "recycled": steel, including food cans, cars, appliances, bicycles, furniture, nails ...anything made with steel; aluminum, including beverage cans; glass, including glass bottles and jars; molded pulp containers, including gray or brown cardboard egg cartons and flower boxes.

Some products may or may not be made with recycled content, so it is important to read the labels. Look for the highest percentage of "post-consumer recycled content" that you can find.

Look for recycled paperboard containers including cereal, cracker, cake mix, and shoe boxes. The following products may also contain recycled content: facial tissues, toilet paper, paper towels, corrugated cardboard boxes, writing/copier paper, bottles and jugs of liquid laundry detergent, shampoos, and many other products found in grocery stores, hardware stores, office product stores, clothing stores, and home shopping catalogues. Just be sure to read the labels!

Because of the tremendous buying power of businesses, institutions, and government agencies, these groups send a powerful message to manufacturers by the products they choose. When businesses "Buy Recycled" they assure manufacturers that a consistent, long-term demand exists for the recycled products.

The steps to implementing a "Buy Recycled" program at your workplace are simple. First, make a commitment to buy recycled. This can be accomplished through a policy as informal as just having a general preference for recycled-content products or it can be formalized with an established price or bid preference. A price or bid preference is established when a business is willing to pay a slightly higher price (usually 5% - 10% more) for a product with recycled content. The bids should show the minimum amount of recycled content that you find acceptable, but do research first to ensure that the minimum level you require is widely available in your area. Another option is to establish a goal of a certain percentage of total purchases having recycled-content materials or packaging.

In a typical office setting, people often think of and notice recycled-content paper products but don't often realize that office supply products other than paper are also available. When you are out buying office supplies, think beyond paper. The following products often contain recycled content: rulers, diskette mailers, padded mailer envelopes, tape dispensers, organizer trays, calendars, binders, toner cartridges, computer disks, furniture, and carpets. Your local office supply store can give you more information on recycled content products.

Five years after U.S. President Bill Clinton signed his first executive order on recycling, he signed a new executive order on September 14, 1998 to put more teeth into recycled paper mandates for federal agencies. The reason for the new order: despite the 1993 mandate to use recycled copy paper exclusively, the General Services Administration did not stop selling virgin copy paper until March 1998. The new order allows federal auditors to check federal agency compliance with recycled purchasing and issue fines as for other environmental laws.

November 15 is the second annual America Recycles Day. The goal this year is to increase awareness of buying recycled. It not enough to challenge ourselves to recycle more; we must also challenge ourselves to buy the products made from our recycling efforts.

TRASH TIP - 4100 kilowatts of energy are saved per ton of paper recycled and 60 pounds of air pollution are reduced per ton of paper recycled. Buying recycled contributes to energy conservation and a cleaner environment.


All columns archived here are copyright © 1999 by Michael Jessen, all rights reserved. If you wish to print an individual column for your own use, please do so. If you wish to publish any of the columns in either print or electronic format, please contact the author at toenail@netidea.com to arrange appropriate payment.