Eco Friendly Packaging Materials – Paper With Post Consumer or Post Industrial Recycle Content?

There often seems to be some skepticism when the recycled content of the paper used in eco friendly packaging materials happens to be post industrial. Buyers readily accept the environmental benefits of paper i.e., recyclability, biodegradability, renewable resources, etc. But when it comes to claims of content, post consumer is the gold standard and post industrial raises questions as to environmental value.

It is interesting to hear about buyers debating between whether 100% post industrial or 20% post consumer recycled fiber content is the better choice when considering paper packaging materials. In this case and by today’s standards, the packaging with the 100% post industrial content would be the better choice for the buyer looking for eco friendly packaging alternatives. Why?

Paper Packaging with Post Industrial or Post Consumer Recycled Content Claims Must Comply With the Same Standard

Post Industrial (sometimes called Pre Consumer) describes paper that is made from sources where scrap is diverted from the waste stream after the manufacturing process or prior to reaching the consumer. In the case of Post Consumer, this material is diverted from the waste stream after being used by the consumer. Both are legitimate types of recycled content in that both must comply with the same standard: Any recycled content claim for eco friendly packaging materials made of paper, whether Post Industrial or Post Consumer, may only be made when the content is made up of material that has been diverted from the waste stream.

As an example: Paper trimmings are purchased from a printer who would have otherwise discarded it. The trimmings are then resold to a paper producer where it is then converted into pulp for making paper. In terms of environmental value, paper packaging with this type of recycled fiber content is considered equivalent to Post Consumer, because absent the use of these trimmings by the paper producer, they would have entered the waste stream after being discarded by the printer.

Why are Buyers of Green Packaging Materials Confused Over the Recycled Content in Paper?

Paper producers routinely collect the droppings and scraps generated from the original paper making process, which is known as Mill Broke. After a minimal amount of reprocessing, the Mill Broke is combined with virgin material for use in the further production of paper. As public interest in paper packaging containing recycled content began to grow, producers often made “recycled” claims based on the combination of Mill Broke with virgin material in the paper. This was seen as a deceptive claim because as a matter of practice, the Mill Broke had always been reclaimed by the producer and was never subject to introduction into the waste stream. As a result, the standards for using Post Industrial recycled content claims have changed. In addition to complying with the standard of having content made up of material that is diverted from the waste stream, the claim must now exclude waste generated in the paper making process that is capable of being reclaimed for use in further production of the same paper.

Generally, producers of paper packaging containing Post Industrial recycled content will be able to provide documentation that the source of the content comes from outside the paper making process. For buyers of paper used in the making of eco friendly packaging materials, this can help to clear up the confusion over recycled content and help to strengthen the environmental value of paper packaging.

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