Frequently Asked Questions: Buying Recycled

Q: Why should I buy recycled paper?
It's no accident that the symbol for recycling is a circle of arrows. Reusing and recycling materials are only part of the effort needed to reduce the strain on environmental resources. Consumers must also purchase goods created from recycled materials in order to make the circle complete.

You can start by buying toilet paper and paper towels made from recycled paper, not trees. Most stores carry at least one brand that proudly announces that their products include recycled content.

While at work or buying paper for your home printer, be sure to request paper that has at least 30 percent "post-consumer" recycled content - meaning that at least 30 percent of the paper is made from fibers that were salvaged from a previous paper product, such as office and printing papers. It's important that you specifically look for and request recycled paper because most of the paper on the shelves is not recycled.

"Consumers believe they no longer have to ask for recycled, but more than 90 percent of the printing and writing paper made in this country is still made from trees," said Susan Kinsella, Executive Director of Conservatree, a Bay Area non-profit organization that educates paper buyers on environmental paper purchasing. "Every ton of recycled paper substituted for non-recycled paper saves 12 (newspaper) to 24 trees (office papers) and a significant amount of energy and water that otherwise would be required to make paper from trees. Recycled paper also reduces air pollutants, a byproduct of paper production."

Kinsella said that when recycled paper first became available on the market more than twenty years ago, concerns about cost and quality limited its appeal to consumers. Now recycled papers are high quality, meeting the same requirements as non-recycled papers. In addition, price differences have become so small that many recycled papers are priced about the same - or less - than paper without post-consumer recycled content. Best of all, they can be used successfully at home and at work in a wide variety of uses from finicky copiers to high-end graphics printing.

To learn more about using recycled paper, visit the RecycleWorks website. Thanks to the County of San Mateo for this article.

Q: Where can I find more information and resources on buying recycled?
Please see our website on Buying Recycled. This page has information on why you should buy recycled, common myths, and links to other websites with lots of information on this subject.

Q: Where can I find greeting cards made with recycled paper?
Plenty of holiday cards are printed on environmental papers, including those from Hallmark, Brushdance, Sierra Club, UNICEF, Leanin' Tree, Amnesty International and many more, according to the list of environmental paper products published on Conservatree's website:

St. Jude's Ranch for Children has a greeting card recycling program that benefits both consumers and the children in the program who learn entrepreneurship skills. They are accepting donations of used cards or orders for new greeting cards made out of the old ones. To learn more about their program, visit their website at

Q: Where can I find gifts that are good for the environment?
To support a sustainable future, look for presents that use a minimum of resources. Gift certificates to a favorite store or tickets to a concert, theater, or sporting event minimize time, packaging, and wrapping. An annual pass to a State Park might be perfect for your avid outdoorsy friend.

Keep an eye open for products made from recycled materials. Today, there are thousands of manufacturers and retailers offering great products made from recycled bottles and cans.

The most comprehensive place to look for gifts that are good for the environment and stimulate markets for recycled material is at which was developed by the California Department of Conservation in order to promote recycled-content gifts. You can find items for home, jewelry, clothing, pets, toys, sports, games, gardens, outdoor living, and businesses, including stylish home accessories made of 100% recycled aluminum, glass dinnerware and giftware, clothing lines that are made of recycled plastic, PET bottles, and beautiful and functional furniture pieces and garden accessories made of recycled plastic jugs.

Q: Are all recycled products required to be labeled as a recycled product?
No. Many of the products that we use, such as auto parts, steel, plastic products, tissue and towel products and many others use recycled materials and provide good quality at a competitive price. There are many products that have misleading claims such as "recycled" or "recyclable". Look for specific information such as 25% post-consumer content and make sure the product is recyclable in your area.

Q: What is the difference between pre-consumer and post-consumer material?
When manufacturers use recycled material in their product, they define it in two ways: pre-consumer or post-consumer. Pre-consumer is basically manufacturing waste. For example, an envelope manufacturer might recycle the clippings left over when envelopes are cut from paper. These clippings could be made into other paper products instead of being thrown away. Post-consumer content, on the other hand, is the material that was previously used by consumers, such as, newspaper, plastic bottles, glass containers, and aluminum cans. In order for recycling to work, manufacturers need to make more products with post-consumer recycled content and consumers must buy more products with post-consumer recycled content. We will all then be closing the loop on recycling.

Q: What do the terms "recycled", "recyclable", "post-consumer" and "pre-consumer" mean?
Recycled means that a product is made all or in part from a material that was once something else, like a can or bottle.

Recyclable merely indicates that a product or package can be recycled and used to make something else.

Post-consumer is a term for material that has been returned, recycled, and reborn into a second life. It refers to materials that has served its intended use and has been recycled by a consumer or business. By looking for the highest post-consumer content you can find, you help build demand for material collected in community recycling programs.

Pre-consumer is material that was discarded, or leftover, when used to make something else. It refers to material such as factory trimmings, damaged or obsolete products, and overruns generated by manufacturers. Such materials have been recycled for decades.

Q: What is America Recycles Day?
America Recycles Day, which is usually celebrated on or around November 15, is a nationwide effort to encourage and support recycling efforts by individuals and communities. What starts out as an individual decision to recycle builds into a coast-to-coast movement that ultimately makes our country a cleaner, more efficient and better place to live. And it all starts with you. The "Buy Recycled" theme of the campaign helps people to understand that recycling is not complete until we make a commitment to buy and use recycled-content products.

In celebration of America Recycles Day, everyone is invited to pledge to buy recycled or recycle more. By making a pledge to recycle, you will be joining others in California and across the nation who are committed to the reduction, reuse, recycling, and responsible disposal of resources. It takes an individual effort to effect sweeping change. Your commitment to this pledge and your support of recycling will have far greater impact and importance than you may realize. By pledging, you will have the opportunity to join a national sweepstakes drawing for prizes on or about December 15th. Make the pledge at

Q: What gets recycled into what?
Sometimes it's exactly what you'd expect; old corrugated boxes turn into new corrugated boxes; newspapers? Same pulp, different news; glass bottles into glass bottles, but some of the end products may surprise you.

  • Steel and aluminum cans can be recycled for use in other steel and aluminum products. This not only conserves mineral resources but the recycling process also uses about 75% less energy than using virgin materials. Recycled steel and aluminum finds its way into new cars, bikes, appliances, cookware, and a whole lot more.
  • Glass beverage containers can be recycled over and over again, but they can also be used for other things you may not expect; like roads, marbles, decorative tiles, surfboards, and a host of other products and materials.
  • In 1995, the recycling of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles reached a new high. 34% of all the bottles produced were being recycled. These bottles are turned into everything from rugs to goggles, park benches and fences to fiber for filling ski jackets.

It all comes back to you. Recycling gets down to one person taking action. New products can be made from your recyclable waste material. Recycling is good for our environment, our communities, and our economy.

Visit America Recycles at to find book lists and activities on this subject. You can also pledge to recycle and enter a contest to win a hybrid Ford Escape and five recycled-aluminum Trek Model 4300 24-speed bicycles.

Thank you to the America Recycles campaign for the article.

Q: What is the Shop Smart Campaign?
The choices you make in the grocery store affect both your grocery bill and the quality of your environment. The good news is - what’s better for the environment is almost always better for your budget. You could save as much as $2000 per year for your family by avoiding disposables and individual serving sizes.

Fruit juice costs almost twice as much in small boxes as juice made from concentrates. After the initial expense for a thermos, you can save over and over by refilling it from concentrates or larger bottles of juice. Cookies and chips are twice as expensive in individual sizes. Compare the grocery store shelf tags to see how much you can save per ounce. Complete packing your waste-less lunch by including a cloth napkin and using a reusable bag and you have just eliminated the need for buying paper napkins and lunch bags.

Breakfast cereals have an even bigger difference in price. Oatmeal in individual serving sizes costs over three times as much as the same amount in a big box. Dry cereal in serving size boxes uses much more packaging, including a plastic wrap to keep them together, and costs over twice as much as buying a regular box of cereal. Each time you go up a size in cereal boxes, you get more food and less packaging for your money.

At work, do you have individual packets of sugar? If so, your business pays over five times the cost of the sugar to have it packaged that way. The sugar itself costs less than 3 cents per ounce and the packaging costs an additional 13 cents per ounce! Does your business supply disposable cups for coffee? All of the sugar wrappers, the coffee cups and wooden stir sticks go into the garbage, wasting resources as well as money. Encouraging staff to bring their own cups and spoons will decrease lunch room waste.

What difference does a little packaging make in the big picture? When you consider that 30% of our collected trash is packaging, you can see how it adds up. Every time you choose less packaging or choose to reuse something, you help your community reduce waste. Protect our limited resources, lengthen the useful life of our landfills, and make your grocery money go further.

The Save Money and the Environment Too Campaign is brought to you by 110 Bay Area cities and counties, BART and more than 400 supermarkets, including Safeway, Andronicos, Cala/Bell Food Co. For more information on waste prevention and reuse, call 1-800-CLEAN-UP.

Q: What are “Green” Hotels and why stay at a “Green” Hotel?
"Green" Hotels are properties whose managers are eager to institute programs that save water, save energy and reduce solid waste--while saving money.

Why stay at a “Green” Hotel? Green lodging reduces pollution and waste, promotes greater energy efficiency, and a healthier and more productive environment for all Californians.

Average-sized hotels purchase more products in one week than 100 California families do in a year.

Hospitality industry spends $3.7 billion a year on energy. Electricity use accounts for 60-70 percent of the utility costs of a typical hotel.

Guest lighting accounts for 30-40 percent of hotel electricity consumption. Energy-efficient lighting can save 20-75 percent in energy use.

Two percent of California’s food waste comes from the hotel and lodging industry (112,000 tons/year).

Typical hotels use 218 gallons of water per day per occupied room. Water-efficient fixtures can reduce water and sewer bills by 25-30 percent.

For more information, see