A Guide to Buying Post-Consumer Recycled Products

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If you’ve been following our series on post-consumer recycled products, then you have a pretty good idea about what PCR is and why it matters so much to me. What you may still be wondering is, “How do I make sure I find and buy PCR products?” And unfortunately, that question is more complex than it seems.

There is no all-encompassing database of PCR products — it just takes good, old-fashioned research to find what you’re looking for.

The Wording on Packages

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Eco-Friendly Dump Truck Toy

Reading product packaging carefully is important. If a product says it’s made from recycled content, look for details. Does it specify whether that’s pre-consumer recycled or post-consumer recycled? (Any kind of recycled is better than nothing, but post-consumer recycling means that when someone dropped an item in the blue bin for recycling, it was actually used to make this new item you’re now contemplating purchasing. Pre-consumer recycling involves taking things like leftover scraps that weren’t initially used and finding a purpose for them.)

Do the claims apply to just the packaging, just the product, or both? How high is the percentage of recycled content, and of that, what’s the ratio of post-consumer recycled content? A product can claim to be made of “recycled content” even if only a tiny percentage contains anything recycled, but the FTC requires that the label tell you exactly how much is recycled (unless the product or package contains 100 percent recycled materials — in which case, that’s probably a pretty good item to consider purchasing!).

The Products Where PCR Thrives

It can be discouraging to find a product that touts its recycled content, only to find that it’s really not so PCR-laden at all. And it can take a while to find an item that fits the bill in all the areas that matter, like functionality, design, and sustainability. There is some good news, though: Lots of different kinds of retailers offer post-consumer recycled goods, from hardware stores and automotive centers to furniture shops and clothing boutiques.

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Boise Aspen 100% Recycled Multipurpose Paper

One category I’m proud to say often leads the field in PCR is office supplies (it is what I built my business on, after all). Recycled paper has come a long way; you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a high-quality, recycled-content version and its virgin-tree counterpart.

Consider Boise Aspen 100: perfectly new, safe, nontoxic, environmentally responsible, 100 percent post-consumer recycled copy and printer paper. In addition to the recycled element, the paper is whitened without the use of chlorinated compounds or chlorine bleach, eliminating some rather caustic and harmful chemical processes. Those kind of additional environmental and human health benefits that aren’t always obvious are often an added bonus when you make a PCR purchase.

Certifications Worth Seeking

When looking to buy products, it can be helpful to see if they’ve been certified by a third party in environmental responsibility. Not all of these necessarily concern PCR, but they can be a good place to start:

Green Seal: Green Seal, a certification that’s been around since 1989, considers the total environmental impact of a product and works to reduce that impact while maintaining the same performance and quality you would expect.

Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) or Processed Chlorine Free (PCF): The Chlorine Free Products Association is an independent, not-for-profit accreditation and standard-setting organization for evaluating chlorine-free products. Only papers made with 100 percent post-consumer recycled fiber can be PCF.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC): FSC certification ensures that products come from well-managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits.

Green-e: An independent certification and verification program for renewable energy and greenhouse gas emission reductions.

CarbonNeutral: For this certification, a company, brand, or product must accurately measure its carbon footprint, then commit to a reduction strategy and carbon offset program to prove their activities will not result in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions that affect climate change.

Doing Our Part

We know it isn’t always easy to find PCR products, and that’s why we do the work for you — asking companies tough questions, verifying certifications, and making sure that everything we offer on DolphinBlue.com is environmentally responsible. On each product, we’ll tell you the percentage of PCR content and clearly explain what that means.

We don’t know any other companies that go to the lengths we do to both verify facts and educate consumers on this issue, but we know it’s worth it. Every time you buy something containing PCR materials, you’re helping to close the loop — reducing our reliance on virgin resources and bolstering the market for recyclables so that more products in the future can make use of PCR content.

We all win when we recycle, and we win more completely when we purchase PCR products, preserving our planet for future generations.

Tom Kemper is the founder of Dolphin Blue, a company founded in 1993 on the belief that we can all be responsible in what we use. Dolphin Blue sells the most environmentally responsible home, family, pet, office, and business products available.

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Facts On Why Super Bowl XLVIII Will Be The ‘Greenest Super Bowl Ever’

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  • In 2009, MetLife Stadium signed a Memorandum of Understanding pledging to become an environmental steward by implementing green initiatives that would reduce its carbon footprint to help improve our planet’s environment.
  • Has reduced the use of energy, water and solid waste production by aggressive recycling programs, low flow faucets, toilets and waterless urinals in restrooms, food composting, and mass transit alternatives.
  • In 2012, MetLife Stadium reduced its carbon footprint by 250,650 Metric Ton Carbon Dioxide Equivalent.
  • Became the first Certified Green Restaurant stadium.
  • The stadium staff and the NFL have pledged to recycle plastics, glass, aluminum and paper during and after the sporting event.
  • All waste oil from the food production will be converted into biodiesel and all food scraps will be composted.
  • Styrofoam containers will not be used.
  • They will also be donating all leftover food.
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China is Drowning in Smog: One Man May Have the Solution


Air quality in China is bad, it’s really, really bad. The air quality is so poor that residents rarely see the sun and in some cities, the dense air pollution is mistaken for snow! What is causing all of the pollution? It’s coal-burning smog. And until China can ween itself from fossil fuels and implement more sustainable energy practices, other energy solutions are desperately needed. One designer named Daan Roosegaarde may have an ingenius solution.

Roosegaarde has an idea to create what he is calling an “electronic vacuum cleaner”. Copper Tesla coils buried underground would help to create an electrostatic field that would pull smog particles down from the polluted sky, creating a clear space above where sunlight could shine through.

His smog vacuum would attract pollution particles much like a strand of hair is pulled toward a statically charged balloon. Copper coils would create a field of static electric ions which would magnetize the smog, causing it to fall down to the ground below. Roosegaarde plans to capture all of the smog on the ground and compress it, hopefully making it easier to create awareness of how much smog residents are living with and to rally opposition to the causes of the polluted air.

This week Roosegaarde created a working prototype with the help of the University of Delft. They were able to take a 5×5 meter room full of smog and create a smog-free hole of one cubic meter with their device. Now the challenge is how to apply it on a grander scale. Roosegaarde would like to see it installed in parks and public spaces where everyone can enjoy a smog free sky.

Over the course of the next 12 to 18 months, Roosegaarde will be working to perfect his device and many will be watching, waiting, and hoping for his success. Roosegaarde acknowledges that the smog plaguing China is “a human problem not a technological problem” and he hopes that his smog-cleaning vacuum will help raise awareness off the issue while also taking a small step to make the air quality and quality of life a little better for the residents of China.

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Costa Concordia Salvage A Success

Protecting our oceans and keeping them trash free is sometimes easier said than done. Take for instance the story of the Costa Concordia, a cruise liner that crashed into the Italian Giglio Harbor in 2012. It sat for 20 months in the harbor, molding to the rocky perch beneath, before salvage experts were able to right the partially submerged ship.

According to ABC news, “the most spectacular salvage operation in shipping history” has been completed as the 114,500-ton Costa Concordia was pulled upright. While the catastrophic wreck happened in January 2012, the ship was not righted until September 17th, 2013. The salvage crew was able to accomplish this feat by building a platform under the waves and moving the ship from a position that kept it in danger of slipping down the sloping seabed.

Captain Richard Habib, director of Titan Salvage, led the $800 million project over the course of 18 months. For the salvage workers, the operation was risky and complicated, but for the residents of the Italian harbor, the operation was a life-saver. Removing the massive ship from the harbor was long overdue and many residents and salvage workers alike popped champagne bottles in celebration as the 19 hour operation to roll the ship vertical came to a close at 4am.

After the successful righting of the ship, it will stay in the harbor as further inspections are made. On October 10, Dockwise Vanguard, a semi-submersible heavy lift ship able to carry up to 110,000 tons, was awarded the removal of Costa Concordia. After the ship is re-floated, it will be towed to an Italian port to be scrapped.

Dolphin Blue is happy to learn that crews were able to avoid a catastrophic event by removing the ship’s oil and fuel supply before it leaked into the harbor waters. Taking responsible steps to ensure the safety of the animals that call Giglio Harbor home is one more piece of this story that give it a happy ending.

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Greenest Schools in America

What are a few things that come to mind when thinking of the “college experience?” Eating pizza six days a week? Writing papers the night they’re due? Those may be the more popularized experiences, but a college at its most basic is designed it to help its students learn and grow.  Some universities take this more literally than others.

Take Green Mountain College for example, #6 on Sierra Club’s 2013 list of Cool Schools. Its students were one of the first to help their college achieve climate neutrality, a truly impressive feat considering that climate neutrality means a carbon footprint of zero. This requires balancing any carbon output with an equivalent offset. It might seem simple at first, but what would this take? This would mean planting trees, reusing or recycling all trash, eating homemade produce, burning fossil fuels, and using wind or solar energy.  For Green Mountain College, they found 1.2 million kilowatt-hours in an unlikely source: cows.  Dickinson College, #2 on Sierra Club’s list, collects grease from local restaurants to turn it into biodiesel.  These colleges are taking advantage of the opportunity to craft and mold these creative young minds to tackle energy issues with their challenging and stringent sustainability courses.

However, not every sustainable solution is completely unique to each school, there are several practices that many universities share. For instance, many schools have campus-wide composting to reduce waste, enforce keeping paper and water waste low, and maintain cafeterias that serve student grown produce and utilize trayless dining. Also, many schools only build LEED Certified buildings, a certification that distinguishes a high performance green building. LEED takes many variables into account (sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, etc.) and provides a status level of Silver, Gold, or Platinum. Dickinson College only builds to LEED Gold standards.

Not only are these colleges making a positive impact on the environment, they are teaching responsible and accountable living as well as fostering a strong sense of community and teamwork. These are healthy, functional habits that a student can take and use for the rest of his or her life.  What are some of the ways you could practices what they preach? Take a look at our products to get a few ideas on how to take the first baby steps.

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Everything old is new again

Plastics recycling can have a big impact on our resources.
Shopping bags, liters of soda, cereal box lining, and lots and lots of water bottles — it’s easy to amass plastic in today’s world, given its omnipresence in the products we use. Most of that, though, goes straight into plastic trash bags and heads to a landfill. (The rate of recycling plastic bottles has held steady since the 1990s at about 24 percent.)

Why Recycle Plastic?
When contemplating whether recycling plastic is really worth it, consider the following:

– It costs more money to drink bottled water than to put gas in your car — up to five times more — due mainly to its packaging and transportation, says the Earth Policy Institute.

– Recycling 1 ton of plastic saves 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space.

– The energy we waste using bottled water would be enough to power 190,000 homes.

– More than $1 billion worth of plastic is wasted each year.

– Recycled plastic can turn into a whole host of new and useful products, including durable building and construction products, fiber for carpets, tote bags, beverage bottles, recycling bins, shipping envelopes, and tableware (cups, plates, and utensils). Dolphin Blue carries a complete line of post-consumer recycled plastic tableware, which you can find here.

How to Recycle Plastic
Fortunately, 80 percent of Americans have access to a plastics recycling program, and more than 1,600 businesses are involved in recycling post-consumer plastics. There are seven types of plastic, and not every community’s curbside program recycles all of them, so first, learn what’s what with the handy chart from the American Chemistry Council, found here. Most likely you have #1 (water bottles, peanut butter jars), #2 (plastic bags, shampoo bottles), and #6 (packing peanuts, yogurt containers).

Many stores will recycle plastic bags for you, so check with your favorite grocer, or visit PlasticBagRecycling.org for a list of locations in your state that offer drop-off bins for recycling plastic bags.

When it comes to water bottles and other containers with lids, take the tops off before throwing them in a recycling bin. Lids are usually made of a different type of plastic than bottles, and the recycling facilities aren’t going to take the time to take off billions of lids — and likely will reject the bottles for recycling.

For more information, watch a short video here about the process of recycling plastic.

The DIY Guide to Reusing Plastic
There are ways to make good use of plastic once you’re done with it other than sending it to a recycling facility. Keeping plastic bags on hand and reusing them as long as they’re functional is a great way to reduce your impact. To make it convenient, try storing bags in empty tissue or garbage-bag boxes. This keeps the clutter at bay, and it makes the bags accessible when you need them. Just pull a bag out of the parachute hole and go.

For those with an artistic side, look at plastic products in a new way and see what you can come up with. You might just end up with something as fun and elegant as these cascade chandeliers. And although crocheting is usually done with yarn, when plastic bags are the material, it’s environmentally friendly and pretty darn cool. Check out one woman’s creations here.

Last but not least, it’s simple and easy to stock your office kitchen or home pantry with Preserve Tableware, made of post-consumer recycled yogurt cups, available on Dolphin Blue’s site here.

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