If You're Not Buying Recycled, You're Not Recycling

Recycling does not stop when you place your recyclables at the curb or in your desk side container. It only begins there. It is only when you purchase products made with post consumer recycled materials that you complete the recycling loop. The long-term success of recycling in Pennsylvania depends on the demand for recycled products. When you Buy Recycled you help maintain existing material and promote new material for the materials you separate for recycling.

Closing the Loop

Buying Recycled (Closing the Loop) has other benefits as well. When we enhance recycling by Buying Recycled, we reduce the amount of waste destined for disposal, thus reducing the need for expansion of additional landfills, incinerators, or other facilities to handle waste. Taking advantage of additional opportunities for recycling that are created by Buying Recycled, such as demand for a wider range of materials at greater market value, can help to limit or reduce your disposal costs because there will be less to throw away.

Conserving Natural Resources

Finally, use of recycled materials, can help to conserve valuable natural resources because:

  • Many processes that use recycled materials are less energy intensive, so the need for fossil fuel is decreased
  • There will be less need for virgin materials that may be expensive, scarce, and difficult to extract

Recycled Product

The term recycle, when used to describe products, can be quite confusing, and in some cases, even misleading. For example recycled does not mean that a product contains 100% recovered materials. Nor does it always mean that a product contains post consumer materials.


When buying recycled, it is important to understand what you are buying and what you should be looking for in a product. Unfortunately, there is not consensus on how to define a "recycled" product. Key words to become familiar with are: 

  • Post-Consumer
  • Pre-Consumer
  • Recovered Materials
  • Recyclable
  • Recycled
  • Virgin Materials

By understanding the differences as well as the potential for misuse of these terms, you will be able to specify the kinds of recycled products that you want.


Recycled simply means that a product contains some recovered materials that might otherwise be disposed of through the waste management infrastructure.


Recovered materials is a broad term, covering both "pre-consumer" and "post-consumer" materials.


Post-consumer materials are generated by a business or consumer that have served their intended end uses and have been diverted from the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream for the purpose of recycling.


Pre-consumer materials are generated during any step in the production of a product and that have been recovered for or otherwise diverted from the waste stream for reuse in that same industrial process. Examples include trimmings, damaged or obsolete products, and production overruns. This type of material is also known as "post-industrial."


Recyclable is a somewhat misused and misleading term. Many materials are recyclable but are not always possible to recycle a given material in a given area because low volumes of generation or low demand make the cost to process and transport the material to an end user prohibitive.
It should be noted that manufacturers often use the recycling symbol - the "chasing arrows" - indiscriminately. Sometimes the symbol means that product contains recycled material, and other times it means the product is recyclable. As noted above, recyclable can be a misleading term if the material cannot be recycled locally.

Virgin Materials

Virgin materials are natural resources and raw material traditionally used in industrial and manufacturing processes. Examples of virgin material include: 

  • Glass cullet produced utilizing a silica base
  • Mined/processed metals
  • Plastic resins derived from the petroleum refining process
  • Wood pulp