Post-consumer vs Pre-Consumer: What’s it all mean?

Since beginning this blog and the Ferry family’s 2010 transformation, I have become a label fanatic and I diligently read everything. It is amazing what you can find hidden in the fine print. And, it’s disheartening to find out how little you understand of this fine print – and, even the big, bold print, too! One of our goals has been to reduce our waste. This includes a number of choices, but one in particular is choosing to purchase products that can be recycled and are made from recycled goods.

Everyone knows the classic recycle symbol – if you don’t, look in the corner of this blog entry – but a lot of packages that are advertised as recycled give you a mathematical breakdown of their content. You will start to notice the phrasing: 100% post-consumer content or 60% pre-consumer content and 20% post-consumer content. The possibilities are endless because the equation can differ in any combination of post-consumer and pre-consumer content. And, you will also notice that just because the product bears the recycle symbol, it does not mean that it is made entirely of recycled products.

So, what is all this pre-consumer, post-consumer mumbo jumbo? Logically, it would make sense that pre-consumer is material collected and recycled before it has reached the hands of the public and post-consumer is the stuff that comes from you and me. And, guess what? I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the logic works.

POST-CONSUMER Recycled Content
The best way to define this type of material is that is has been used by the consumer for its intended purpose. It comes from a finished product that was destined for waste disposal and was recycled instead. This is the recycled content that you and I see – it’s what we snatch from the garbage can, fill our plastic recycle bins with and put out on the curbside.

PRE-CONSUMER Recycled Content
When you think “pre-consumer” – think behind the scenes. This is the waste that is produced by many industrial processes, particularly the printing and paper industries. Pre-consumer waste would be the end of the newsprint rolls at the Bellingham Herald.

Why does this all matter?!
The type of recycled content you are purchasing matters because it directly impacts the amount of waste you are preventing from entering the landfills. The collection of pre-consumer waste is easy, very little ends up in landfills and, most importantly, the process for using it after it has been recycled is streamlined. The process for using post-consumer recycled waste is time consuming and labor intensive. Because of this most companies choose to use pre-consumer waste and the companies that process post-consumer are struggling to find a market for these items.

By purchasing recycled products (which is uber-important to begin with!) you are making a statement that you support the methods and practices of companies that use recycled waste. And, by choosing to purchase products that carry the statement “100% post consumer recycled content”, you are making the bold decision to provide support for companies going the extra mile to use the waste that is clogging our landfills.

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One Response to Post-consumer vs Pre-Consumer: What’s it all mean?

  1. Pingback: GrabGreen: Spring Clean 2011 (Review & Giveaway) | The Sacred Bee's Blog

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