Post-Consumer Recycled Goods: Recycling Waste Into Stuff

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.

Could you build a house with found objects?

This post was originally published by Treehugger.


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photo courtesy of I am I.A.M. via flickr
Written by Collin Dunn, a Treehugger blogger


Howard C.
.5 years ago

EU laws (I live in England) forces our local governments and shops to offer recycling facilities. As such we sort our waste into what can be recycled (glass, plastic, paper etc); what can be composted (mainly garden waste for health reasons) and what goes to landfill - mainly food waste. In addition all stores selling disposable batteries (for toys etc) must offer the facility to recycle them. All in all this means that we recycle around 75% of our household rubbish.

Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M.5 years ago

Thanks Lindsay. I recycle everything that can be recycled. We have a new system in our small town.
Tuesdays is garbage that can't be put into a compost, Wednesdays is newspaper, plastic containers that come from stores that have the recycle mark, catalogues,empty bread bags, any cardboard, jars (have to be separate), cans with labels off and so on. We have a Bottle depot and can now recycle milk & juice cartons, pop bottles, cans, liquor bottles and you get your deposit back, (we pay a fee for them when we buy).They are making all kinds of items with recycled plastic (Rubber Maid) cubes with lids,
fencing, deck boards etc., even rubber tires are being recycled for ashphalt, curb mata, rubber mats, and I have a pair of clogs with bottoms made from recycled tires.I like the ideas they are coming up with for tires, as when they are piled up someplace and catch fire, they burn for weeks. I just found out today that old car, truck batteries can be completely recycled..the lead is reused, the acid is cleaned and can be reused, the outside surround is plastic and can be used again. I have heard the Germany and Denmark are way ahead when dealing with garbage and recycling programes???

Jane R.
Jane R.5 years ago

Recycle everyone!!

Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado5 years ago

Separating trash is a daily struggle but worthwhile.

Bill K.
Bill K.5 years ago

unfortunately one of the problems is getting people to recycle. many are just too lazy to separate their trash. in the US recycling rates are abysmally low.

Simon Validzic
Simon Validzic5 years ago

I recycle over 99% (by mass) of my waste.

I do not like the idea of recycled materials being used to manufacture some separately-labelled product, especially if it is aimed at some "exclusive" consumer. I rarely see products labelled as containing recycled content. Ideally, the recycleable waste should go to the same factory that made the original item; it should be a closed-loop, and there should not even be products without recycled materials. I think that it is already like that in Europe, at least with respect to glass, metals and PET (since huge amounts are collected, but I have yet to see, for example, a bottle labelled as containing recycled content). We should be moving towards a zero-waste society; not recycling should not even be an option. I am not against waste being incinerated to produce electricity, as long as recycleable matetrials are separated out first, the smoke filtered, and the ashes are used, for example, in the manufacture of cement (toxic heavy metal oxides can be removed and used to make new heavy metals through the process of electrolysis).

Ernie Miller
william Miller5 years ago


Peg R.
Peg R.5 years ago

We recycle everything possible. Don't have a recycling place in our city so we collect it and wait until we are going to pass the recycle bins and then drop it off. The nearest bins are 20 miles away from us.

gerlinde p.
gerlinde p.5 years ago

i recycle everything,even the biologicalkitty litter.we have huge compost containers all over the city which is collected for the biomass fuel center.i buy as much recycled stuff that i can. been looking at a new floor covering made out of the tetrapaks.

John K.
John K.5 years ago

Except for metals and glass; it should be burned for fuel. Landfill waste causes 5 times the amount of greenhouse gases as incinerated trash; if it is done right with the proper scrubbers.
The Danes have been doing it for years with great success.