Is 100% Recycled as good as it sounds?

The label “100% Recycled” must mean a product is pretty green, right?

I always seek out recycled paper products for things like toilet paper, printer paper, etc. A while back, I bought a case of “100% Recycled” toilet paper, but when it arrived, the fine print on each wrapper said “Minimum 20% post-consumer content.” Wait. Just 20% of my 100% recycled product was post-consumer? Did I just make an unintended contribution to deforestation? I assumed that all recycled material was post-use. Otherwise, it’s just being cycled for the first time, right? What does 100% Recycled mean if only a fraction is post-consumer waste?

It turns out that products labeled “100% Recycled” must be made entirely of discarded material, but not necessarily recycled material. Only the “post-consumer content” is truly re-cycled. The rest is new (“pre-consumer”) scraps and rejects tossed out by the manufacturer. According to Wikipedia, pre-consumer waste is “manufacturing scrap (such as trimmings from paper production, defective aluminum cans, etc.)” that is reintroduced “back into the manufacturing process. Pre-consumer waste is commonly used in manufacturing industries, and is often not considered recycling in the traditional sense.”

So look further when the label says “100% Recycled!”

It’s the percentage of post-consumer content that really counts. Make sure you check the fine print!

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