For the purpose of this toolkit, we are focused on definitions and terms related to recycled product purchasing. iStock 1082028632res

  • Recycled content means pre-consumer and post-consumer material and byproducts that have been recovered or diverted from solid waste, and have been used in place of raw or virgin material in the manufacturing a product.
  • Pre-consumer or post-industrial material is material that is diverted from the waste stream during a manufacturing process, which never made it into the consumer product it was intended to be. Examples include trimmings, cuttings and purge.
  • Post-consumer material is material generated by households or businesses, diverted from the waste stream through their recycling programs after those products have been used for their intended purpose.
    • Post-consumer resin (PCR) is associated with plastics recycling.
    • Post-consumer fiber is associated with paper recycling. 
  • Virgin resin or fibers are raw materials that were extracted from natural resources.

There are environmental purchasing goals beyond recycled content that encompass additional environmental factors.

  • Environmentally Preferable Products are those that have a lesser negative or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with similar products that serve the same purpose. This comparison may consider raw material content, acquisition, production, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, reuse, operation, maintenance, or disposal of the product.
  • Life Cycle Cost means the amortized annual cost of a product, including capital costs, installation costs, operating costs, maintenance costs, and disposal costs discounted over the useful life of the product.
  • Sustainability means maximizing the use of resources and minimizing the associated waste, so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.

The NASPO Green Purchasing Guide is a great resource for Environmentally Preferable Purchasing and has an excellent “Green Purchasing Glossary of Terms”, located here:

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This toolkit was developed with support from the EPA Sustainable Materials Management Program.

Comments and Feedback Welcome.  E-mail Jan Hardin at