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Buy-Recycled Questions and Answers

This fact sheet provides answers to questions commonly asked on the WasteWise Helpline about buying recycled-content products. Many resources and suggestions can be obtained from the Helpline: (800) EPA-WISE, or wastewisehelp@epa.gov.

Getting Started

Why buy recycled products?

Purchasing recycled products creates markets for the recovered materials used in these products. This action fosters sustainability and conserves natural resources and energy. In addition, purchasing recycled products promotes the continued manufacture of these products, thus completing the recycling loop.

How do I start a buy-recycled program?

We suggest that your first step is developing a company policy on buying recycled products. Doing so will make all other steps easier. Next, put together a committee, representing all operations, to develop the program. Be sure to include staff from different departments to help purchasers and users understand each other’s needs and constraints. Then, conduct an assessment of the products that your company buys. This assessment will reveal:

Next, examine your specifications to ensure that they do not unnecessarily hinder the purchase of recycled products. Finally, determine the availability of recycled products that meet your specifications in your area. Contact your current suppliers to find out what products are available and inform him/her that you are interested in procuring these types of products. If your current supplier does not supply recycled-content products, consult national directories such as The Official Recycled Products Guide or contact your state or local environmental agency to find out about recycled product distributors in your area. Other sources of information include trade associations, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documents, and the Internet. The WasteWise Helpline can help provide you with this information.

What resources are available to help develop a corporate policy statement to promote the purchase of recycled-content products?

The WasteWise Helpline has sample policy statements available.

How can I work with vendors to increase awareness of buy-recycled purchasing?

Remind your vendors on a routine basis that your company has committed to buying recycled products. In addition to product suppliers, companies can ask other service contractors, such as printers, janitorial service providers, and maintenance contractors, to use recycled products.

How can I educate my employees to increase awareness of buy-recycled purchasing?

Promote the program internally through employee newsletters, routine training, or electronic mail. Employee education is necessary to help your employees understand your WasteWise commitments and how they can help ensure your program is successful. Educated employees can offer suggestions to improve your program and help you purchase quality recycled-content products. The satisfaction of employees who use the products you purchase is key.

Overcoming Barriers

How do recycled-content products perform?

In general, recycled-content products perform as well as their virgin counterparts. In some instances, they perform better. You do not need to compromise on quality to purchase recycled products. In many cases, you will not be able to distinguish recycled-content products from virgin products. According to the 1996 Annual Buy Recycled Survey, conducted by the National Recycling Coalition’s Buy Recycled Business Alliance (BRBA), 97 percent of those surveyed were pleased with the overall performance of recycled products.

Are recycled products available?

There are more than 4,500 products available with recycled content. While not all of these products may be available in your vicinity, they are accessible in other areas of the country. As more companies demand these products, availability should increase. Some products, such as steel containers or corrugated boxes, are more widely available with recycled content than with virgin content.

Do recycled products cost more?

The price of products, whether virgin or recycled, is affected by many variables, including:

Relative prices of recycled products and their comparable virgin products vary. WasteWise encourages you to compare prices between virgin and recycled products and also among the recycled products. Even if one recycled product is more expensive, others may be less expensive.

According to the National Association of Paper Merchants (NAPM), in the past, recycled paper has generally cost more than virgin paper. However, in recent years the prices for paper products have changed and the NAPM recommends that consumers check with their suppliers about any cost differences. In addition, consumers should consider purchasing recycled products in higher volume or through a cooperative contract. Buying in bulk may reduce the purchase premium of recycled products.

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Government Guidelines and Definitions

How can I find out about federal government recycled product procurement guidelines?

Visit www.epa.gov/cpg to obtain EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG) covering paper and paper products, vehicular products, construction products, transportation products, park and recreation products, and non-paper office products. The website also provides copies of the Recovered Materials Advisory Notices (RMANs), which contain EPA’s purchasing recommendations.

Can you provide a definition of post-consumer and recovered materials?

RCRA 6002 defines these materials as follows: post-consumer material refers to a material or finished product that has served its intended use and has been discarded for disposal or recovery, having completed its life as a consumer item. “post-consumer material” is part of a broader category of “recovered material.” Recovered materials is defined as waste material and byproducts that have been recovered or diverted from solid waste, but does not include those materials and byproducts generated from, and commonly reused within, and original manufacturing process.
For the purposes of the CPG, EPA adopted the RCRA 6002 definitions of post-consumer and recovered materials and codified them at 40 CFR Part 247.3 (Definitions).

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