What is “post-consumer recycled”?
Once a material or finished product has served its intended use and has been diverted or recovered from waste destined for disposal, it is then considered “post-consumer.” Having completed its life as a consumer item, it can then be recycled as such. This differs from “pre-consumer” or “post-industrial” waste, which is generated by industrial or manufacturing waste.
Post-consumer recycled starts with our waste
Just about all industrial processes generate waste; the paper and printing industries, for example, recycle ends of paper rolls, misprints, scraps from trimming, etc. This pre-consumer waste is produced in large quantities in a relatively small number of locations; this is the polar opposite of post-consumer waste, which generally comes from our homes. As such, post-consumer waste is more difficult to separate and collect, but very important as it keeps tons of material from going to the landfill.
Recycled materials in big industry
Using pre-consumer recycled materials presents no great challenge in many industries. Using post-consumer recycled materials often does. Many local recycling programs run into trouble for just that reason: there is no market for what they collect. Since post-consumer waste is what’s filling up municipal landfills, environmental advocates have been pressing big companies to use more recycled post-consumer stuff in their products. For example, to show its compliance, an outfit like McDonald’s may say its Big Mac cartons are “40% recycled paper (15% post-consumer),” the 15 percent referring to the old newspapers and the like that you contributed to your local recycling program. By insisting on packaging with high post-consumer recycled content, you’ll be helping to increase the market for old newsprint and other tough-to-recycle stuff, possibly saving a few trees and certainly making the manager of your town’s recycling program a lot happier.
Creating new from old: “post-consumer recycled” into products
Lots of interesting products these days make clever use of PCR materials, from high-concept design like Matt Gagnon’s Paper Table, to more common items like Patagonia’s PCR apparel (above) and magazines. Green building products like interior wall paint and countertops have also proven to be popular and useful destinations for post-consumer recycling, though paper and packaging remain the most widely-used and recognizable ways to incorporate post-consumer materials into our daily lives, and that’s a good thing.
Read more about recycling post-consumer waste
Learn more about how to keep post-consumer waste from Wikipedia and Waste Online and check TreeHugger’s How to Green Your Book For Authors and For Publishers, the scoop on Harry Potter and the Almost Recycled Doorstop and tips for greening your printing.
This post was originally published by Treehugger.