You believe in recycling. You can’t, in good conscience, toss a soda can in the trash. Your recycling bin at home is overflowing by trash day each week. At work, you diligently sort paper, plastic, and glass into the proper bins. You are our teachers, our corporate management, our small business owners, our children, our parents. You care about the environment and believe you’re doing what you can to conserve our resources.
But when you go to the store, do you buy toilet paper made from trees? Is your copy paper made from trees? If you don’t buy recycled products, are you really recycling? The answer is a resounding NO! Actor and environmentalist Ed Begley Jr. talked about this in an interview with Marianne Schnall:
You've got to complete the loop. It's very nice to get all warm and fuzzy and take copies of the LA Weekly and your spent Evian bottles down to the recycling center, but where does that stuff go? If you're not buying recycled products, you're not really recycling. You've got to buy as many as possible.
That recycling has three arrows because there are three components of the recycling process: collecting material that can be recycled, processing those materials into something else, and then purchasing the goods made from recycled raw materials. All you do by sorting your recyclables is creating a supply of material. Purchasing items made out of those recyclables closes the loop on all that collected material. And you also create demand for more raw recyclables.
A real commitment to recycling = buying recycled materials at every available opportunity. At home, that includes toilet paper, trash bags, and garden hoses. At work, than can mean copy paper and reclaimed toner cartridges. If you work in building or construction, that includes paint, floor coverings, and reclaimed wood products. You can find items made from recycled material in virtually every category, from clothing to heavy equipment.
One caveat, though: all goods made from recycled materials are not equally “green” choices. There are two types of recycled material:
- Post-consumer content: this is the paper, plastic, glass, and metal material collected from residential and commercial recycling programs.
- Pre-consumer content: these are the scraps left over from a manufacturing process that are collected and reused.
Your goal is to buy products with as much post-consumer content as possible. You’re creating the market for those recyclables you sort, and the use of post-consumer content goes a long way toward protecting virgin resources.
Recycled content is measured as a percentage the weight of the finished product weight and can be any combination of pre- and post-consumer content. Look for labels that clearly state the amount of post-consumer content. Close that recycling loop, create demand for your recyclables, and go farther to preserve virgin resources by buying recycled.