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Post Consumer vs Post Industrial Recycled Content

Post Consumer vs Post Industrial Recycled Content

Apr 5th 2021

If you’ve spent even a few minutes on our website, you likely know that EcoEnclose is maniacally focused on recycled content. Maximizing recycled content is foundational to our Sustainable Packaging Framework, as we believe this market demand helps fuel investments in recycling infrastructure and capacity across the supply chain (thus making recycling more viable and building towards a more circular economy).

But when it comes to assessing how sustainable your package is, we actually believe the most important question to ask is not just “How Much Recycled Content?” but “How Much Post Consumer Waste?

There are two types of recycled content: 

Post-industrial waste and post-consumer waste. What's the difference?

Post Consumer Waste

Post-consumer recycled content refers to finished goods that are used and then recycled. Common post-consumer recycled content includes copy paper, shipping boxes, empty plastic bottles, aluminum cans. 

Many of these items end up in a “single stream” recycling bin (such as the blue bin you likely have at home or at the office). This single stream recycling is then collected by local recycling programs and brought to recycling facilities, often referred to as Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) where they are sorted into bales of like material, which are then purchased to be broken or melted down, and then remanufactured.

Post Industrial Waste

Post-industrial (often referred to as “pre-consumer”) waste, on the other hand, refers to waste generated from the manufacturing process that led to the creation of the original source material. For example when plastic is blown into bottles, scrap (often referred to as “pinch-off”) is left behind that doesn’t make it into the final bottles. If these scraps are saved, repelletized and used again, it would be referred to as “post-industrial waste.” 

Post-consumer waste refers to finished goods, while post-industrial waste refers to waste "material" generated from a manufacturing process. 

This type of manufacturing scrap is produced in almost every processing line - from aluminum that is converted into soda cans to liner board that is converted into corrugated cardboard. 

It is important to note that if material is reutilized within the same process that generated it, it should not be referred to as recycled content (this would still be referred to as virgin content).

Why is Post Consumer Waste Preferred to Post Industrial?

One of our primary reasons for prioritizing recycled content is to build market value for recycled goods. 

Post-consumer recycled content - which contains things like labels and inks and adhesives - is inherently more contaminated than post-industrial (which, on the other hand, is a very pure waste stream) making it more difficult to regrind / rework and remanufacture.

This means that, all other things equal, post-industrial waste has higher inherent value for reclaimers than post-consumer waste.

By prioritizing post-consumer waste (over virgin and post-industrial waste), your commitment helps build market value for materials that otherwise would be the least desirable for manufacturers to work with. 

As this value increases, it spurs deeper investment across sorters (MRFs), reclaimers and brands to work with this waste steam (thus increasing the likelihood of the material being recycled instead of landfilled).

Does the origin of the recycled content matter?

Yes! We encourage you to source your post-consumer waste domestically. Since China’s National Sword policy went into effect, it has become painfully clear that a circular economy can only be created if we invest in US-based end-to-end recycling and reclaiming infrastructure.

While sourcing recycled supplies and packaging manufactured in Asia is certainly better than sourcing virgin materials, this step does not have the desired impact of spurring circular investments where we need it the most - here in the US (or in your home country).

Why isn’t everything 100% Post Consumer Waste?

Across all materials - plastic, paper, glass, aluminum, etc - post consumer waste introduces contaminants, which make the recycled material harder to manufacture than post-industrial or virgin counterparts. Additionally, with some items, such as paper and plastic, the raw material actually degrades in quality each time it is recycled. 

Because of this, we often find that it is not yet technically feasible to put 100% post-consumer waste through standard manufacturing equipment and that the resulting product or package is not strong or functional enough to meet our customers’ needs. We are constantly balancing technical feasibility, durability and functionality, and our desire to maximize post-consumer waste. Rest assured that across all of our product lines, we are committed to working towards 100% post-consumer waste, without sacrificing your functional requirements.