How do I find recycled products?
So you’re wondering how to make good purchasing decisions at home and work that help to reduce society’s solid waste burden? Buying recycled products is one way to help.
You have probably wondered, “I know that I’m doing a good thing by putting out my recyclables at the curb because it doesn’t go the landfill. But then what happens to all that stuff?”
Those materials come back as recycled products that you may be using every day. By creating demand for recycled material, you help to sustain recycling programs throughout the country.
There are other ways to make a positive impact on the environment, such as finding products that are less toxic or to reduce the amount of waste you create in the first place. But there is stuff out there that you need. Buying recycled products helps to close the recycling loop that keeps waste out of landfills and incinerators.
Availability & Quality
You’ve probably wanted to try buying recycled products over the years. But the only ones that you can think of are specialty items from catalogs. Maybe these products were expensive. Maybe they were specialty items that you don’t buy every day.
Do you think that buying recycled products means comprising on quality and just looking through catalogs? Think again. You can look in your home or office and find plenty of recycled products. For example, many tissue products are made from recycled paper. Cellulose insulation in your attic probably came from recycled newsprint. Most cereal boxes are made from 100% recycled paperboard with a minimum of 35% post-consumer fiber. Many name brands use post-consumer recycled content plastic in their bottles. Virtually every steel product—such as a soup can—has recycled steel in it. But you don’t think about your cereal box or shampoo bottle as a poor quality product.
What about Price?
There is a myth that recycled products always cost more than “virgin” products. It is a myth because while some recycled products are more expensive, some are competitive and some are less expensive. Consider cellulose insulation, which is cheaper than fiberglass. Consider the steel can, which you don’t usually think of being a recycled product.
But it’s not always an apples-to-apples comparison either. Plastic lumber that is made from plastic milk jugs or plastic bags is more expensive than treated wood. However, when you calculate the “total cost of ownership”, which includes the cost of replacing a rotted wood deck and applying sealant, varnish, or paint, the consumer comes out ahead with plastic lumber.
In fact, it is sometimes hard to view recycled products as one class of products because they are so pervasive. Retail store staffers often don’t even know that these products have recycled content. But there are still so many virgin products that could be made from recycled material. Or perhaps you are looking for a “recycled” label on a product and you can’t find it?
What about labeling?
Some products proudly carry a “recycled content” label of some kind to inform consumers. Others do not. Why?
It’s simple: some products sell better when they appeal to environmentally minded consumers. But plenty of others products don’t sell well when they advertise recycled content. For example, a Canadian ceiling tile manufacturer found that architects weren’t interested when they heard that the tile was made from recycled newsprint. Once the sales people stopped saying that the tile was recycled and focused just on the product’s price and quality, sales exploded! This was still a positive outcome since the market improved for recycled newsprint. The labeling depends on the audience.Some recycled products just don’t end up on the shelves in retailers. Asphalt, concrete, and the metal in new cars are highly recycled products but we often don’t think of them in that way.
Recycled Content vs. Recyclable
The recycling symbol is in the public domain, so it often ends up being misused. Manufacturers may put it on their product’s packaging to indicate recycled content, to indicate that the product is generally recyclable, or to simply to show support for recycling. In the case of plastics, the recycling symbol with a number in it indicates the plastic’s resin type so that recyclers can sort them properly.
You can be sure that a product has recycled content if the product is labeled with pre-consumer or post-consumer content. If there is no label, you can contact the manufacturer (or consult our recycled products guide listed below). Pre-consumer content means that the manufacturer used waste material that never made it into the marketplace, such as paper scraps at a paper mill. Post-consumer content is material that you have used already; this is the preferred type of recycled content.
Determining the recyclability of a product is important too. Don’t trust the recycling symbol on packaging; always consult your city or county recycling coordinator to see what materials can be recycled in your community program. One major source of confusion is plastic packaging symbols. The number inside the recycling symbol on plastic packaging indicates the resin type. For example, pop containers generally have a 1 for PET plastic; milk jugs have a 2 for HDPE plastic; and yogurt cups and butter tubs usually have a 5 for polypropylene. These symbols do not mean that they are recyclable in every community. Most communities collect types 1 and 2 but usually not other plastics.