For recycling to succeed in America, we must do more than just set our recyclables at the curb or drop them off at a recycling center. We must also purchase products made from recycled materials. When we buy recycled products made in America, we help to create healthy markets for the materials we recycle at home and work. So, buying recycled is a key part of the recycling “loop.” You may be surprised to learn that you have been buying recycled for years! Most cereal boxes, aluminum and steel cans, and glass bottles have recycled content.
Natural resources are limited and often difficult to extract from the earth. When products are made from recycled materials, manufacturers are using every tree, every gallon of oil, every pound of minerals to its maximum potential. If we use something just once and throw it away, we are wasting those resources.
Manufacturing a product from “virgin” materials creates a lot of waste and pollution. Some of that waste goes into landfills or incinerators; some of it is released into the air, and still more goes into the water supply. Manufacturing that same product from recycled materials creates far less waste and emissions.
The energy savings from manufacturing a product with recycled materials rather than “virgin” materials can be substantial. For example, it takes 95% less energy to manufacture an aluminum can from recycled aluminum than from “virgin” materials.
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Washington, D.C. estimates that nine jobs are created for every 15,000 tons of solid waste recycled into a new product, and seven jobs for the same amount of yard trimmings composted. By contrast, only two jobs are created for every 15,000 tons incinerated, and just one job for every 15,000 tons sent to landfills.
When we incorporate the purchase of recycled products into everyday shopping habits, we communicate to our children, to manufacturers, to retailers, to elected officials, and others an important message: we want to play a productive role in helping to ensure a positive future for our families, our communities, and our plain Myths About Buying Recycled.
Buying recycled products isn’t difficult. Even though products are not always identified as containing recycled material, reading labels is still the best way to find most recycled products. When looking for recycled products, keep the following in mind:
1. Post-consumer materials include any items that have been used by consumers or businesses and collected for recycling.
2. Pre-consumer or Post-Industrial materials include “waste” items generated during manufacturing, such as paper trimmings at paper mills, which almost always end up being recycled anyway. By choosing products with the highest percentage of post-consumer materials, we support our local recycling collection programs.
3. Recycled vs. Recyclable: These terms can be very confusing. A recycled product is one made from recycled material, and is the focus of this fact sheet. A recyclable product is one that can be collected, separated, or otherwise recovered and recycled after it has reached the end of its useful life. While it is important to look for both recycled and recyclable products, buying a “recyclable” product only has meaning if you can, and will, actually recycle it in your community.
4. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Sometimes the recycled product may appear to be more expensive because of differences in size, where they are made or workmanship.