Environment Picture

A green products glossary

Tossing loads of paper into the recycling bin is half the battle. Choosing products made from recycled material closes the loop, creating demand that spurs new types of “recycled” paper goods and lowers prices as economies of scale kick in. Here’s a primer to the phrasing you’ll find on recycled paper products, and how they rate on the MEC “Green-o-Meter.”

 POST-CONSUMER CONTENT: Post-consumer content is stuff that has been through consumers’ hands at least once. It’s the stuff we put in the recycle bins that would otherwise be scrunched in a landfill or belched out of an incinerator. Green-o-Meter rating: Great!

 RECYCLED: Paper that is recycled comes from scrap leftovers off the cutting-room floor in printing plants. Wrinkled paper that can’t go in the presses, the “test” runs of jobs that aren’t ready for prime time, and irregular leftovers are part of this mix. Not as worthy as post-consumer content, but better than virgin paper stock. Green-o-Meter rating: Good

CONTAINS: Watch out. This phrase should raise a red flag. A product that “contains” recycled or post-consumer paper often means that it contains just enough to try and market it as a green product. It’s the same scam with food products, too. A “juice” drink that “contains real fruit juice” may be 10% juice and 90% sugar water. So look for the percentage on the package...does it contain 5% recycled paper? Or 95%? Green-o-Meter rating: Probably bad

CHLORINE-FREE: Chlorine compounds are still used in some paper mills to bleach paper, producing dioxins and other dangerous compounds. Products labeled ECF (elemental chlorine-free) use processes that minimize dioxin. Products labeled TCF (totally chlorine-free) or PCF (process chlorine-free) don’t create any dioxin. This is particularly important in products like coffee filters (“I’d like cream, sugar and a dollop of dioxin, please!” Green-o-Meter rating: Good

RECYCLABLE: Most paper products are recyclable. Touting that on the label is virtually meaningless, akin to marketing “waterproof” raincoats or “edible” vegetables. Green-o-Meter rating: Worthless

 FSC: Products carrying the Forest Stewardship Council logo indicate they have been made from wood grown in forests independently certified as sustainably managed. There are numerous certifications that sound similar, but FSC is the strongest. Green-o-Meter: Good

FOREST-FRIENDLY: What spiffy alliteration! Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean a thing. Green-o-Meter: Worthless
-Hugh McDiarmid Jr., Michigan Environmental Council
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