In spite of worldwide recycling efforts, landfill disposal remains the leading waste disposal technique (50%). And as such, the world's largest landfill site alone receives 3.8 million tons of waste annually.

As sustainability leaders explore innovative methods and materials to lower this number, one of the most highly pursued interests is post-consumer recycled content (PCR).

PCR-based products help reduce the need for landfill waste disposal, owing to their multiple life cycles. Manufacturers can recycle and reintroduce them into the supply chain once they’ve reached the end of their useful life.

But this process isn’t as simple as sorting our trash into different bins and taking it to the curb on recycling day. Recycling abounds in jargon and acronyms. Businesses transitioning to PCR packaging should take the time to learn these terms. In this article, we’ll review the basics.

♻️ Recycled content terms explained

Here's the kicker: Post-consumer recycled content isn’t always present in recycled products. Find out the truth about recycled content to avoid being misled.

Recycled content

Recycled content refers to materials recovered from the waste stream during production or after consumer use. It's the sum of pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled materials used in a product. The greater the sum, the fewer virgin materials are used in the product.

Some products come with labels indicating the recycled content used. A kraft mailer made from 20% manufacturing scrap trimmings (pre-consumer) and 45% curbside recycling bins (post-consumer) would disclose a total recycled content of 65%.

The following example illustrates how this works in practice: Footwear company Barbara Bennett uses noissue’s Custom Tissue Paper packaging that’s made from 30% recycled material and 70% new acid-free virgin pulp. In this case, 30% represents the combination of pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled content. Here’s what the packaging material looks like:

noissue Custom Compostable Tissue Paper by @barbarabennett__

Post-consumer recycled (PCR)

Post-consumer recycled content comes from products that have reached their life cycle and would have otherwise ended up in landfills. These include items you typically toss in garbage bins, such as plastic bottles, food containers, aluminum cans, and shipping boxes.

Municipal recycling programs collect and transport this solid waste to recycling facilities. The recycled content then becomes raw materials for new production cycles.

Production > Consumption > End of life > Recycling > Reproduction

Note: Production waste that doesn’t enter the consumer market isn’t accounted for as post-consumer recycled content.

noissue Recycled Mailers are made from 100% recycled LDPE and HDPE and come in a variety of sizes

Pre-consumer content

Pre-consumer content consists of discarded materials during production, including rejects and offcuts. But as per ISO 14021, it doesn’t include rework, regrind, or scrap generated on-site and reused in the same or another manufacturing process.

So if a paper mill worker picks up some paperboard cuttings and feeds it back into the pulping process, it doesn’t count as pre-consumer content. That’s because the goal here is efficient production, not recycling. But if the company uses the cuttings to make new low-grade paperboard instead of discarding them, the material is considered pre-consumer content

Note: Pre-consumer content, a.k.a. post-industrial waste, never makes it to the final goods distributed to consumers. But the material can be recycled, becoming post-industrial recycled content.

Post-industrial recycled (PIR)

Post-industrial recycled refers to recovered or reclaimed materials from manufacturing waste. Piggybacking off our paper mill example above: Imagine cutting up paperboard and bleaching it to produce kraft boxes, that’s PIR. The same applies if the company sells the reclaimed materials to a third-party manufacturer or donates them to recycling programs.

noissue Stock Kraft Boxes are made from 100% recycled materials and printed using eco-friendly inks

Whether it's a legal mandate or a cost-cutting strategy, companies now recognize the value of repurposing post-industrial waste. This saves them a significant chunk of money on waste collection and disposal. They also don’t have to outsource recycled materials as they already have them on hand.

Post-consumer waste (PCW)

Post-consumer waste (PCW) includes cardboard boxes, magazines, and toilet paper. PCW is one of the most recommended packaging materials because it supplies roughly 50% of the fiber used to make paper.

In terms of sustainability, PCW has greater contributions than other recycled materials. The latest EPA data shows paper and paperboard have the highest recycling rate (68%) compared to other municipal solid waste.

Furthermore, every ton of recycled PCW reduces greenhouse gas emissions by one metric ton of carbon equivalent. That’s like saving 7,000 gallons of water, 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, and energy to power the average American home for six months.

Be it PCR or PCW, recycling post-consumer materials is a simple yet effective way to help the environment. Anyone, especially SMB owners, can contribute to this environmental cause with PCR packaging.

What are the benefits of PCR packaging?

Packaging accounts for about 36% of all plastic produced, of which 85% end up in landfills. What’s worse is that 98% of single-use plastics are made from virgin materials.

Post-consumer recycled content closes the loop on sustainable packaging by reducing virgin material consumption and end-consumer waste. Business-wise, it’s also an effective way to reduce costs while helping you achieve your sustainability goals. The following reasons may persuade you:

  • PCR packaging can boost your bottom line. 67% of customers prefer shopping for products that come in recyclable packaging. Switching to PCR can help attract these sales while reducing disposal costs — thus, increasing your net profit.
  • PCR packaging can help turn your customers into advocates. 77% of conscious consumers want to level up their sustainability efforts, with recycling being one of them. Thanks to PCR packaging, you can fulfill this demand and nurture them in the long run.
  • PCR packaging can put you ahead of the competition. Customers pressure 75% of firms to take sustainability actions, but one-third have been slow to respond. Taking action today with PCR packaging can build your brand and make it stand out among your competitors.
noissue Custom Poly Mailers are made from 100% recycled materials and are customizable on both sides!

How does PCR packaging differ from compostable and recyclable packaging?

PCR, compostable, and other recyclable packaging are all sustainable. Consumers can reuse, recycle, or compost them instead of dumping them after a single use. However, their manufacturing process and life cycle differ.

For compostable packaging, either a home compost pile or a commercial facility will do. Otherwise, the packaging might not degrade and reach landfills.

Meanwhile, PCR packaging raw material degrades with each recycling loop. It's also why most packaging companies don't use 100% post-consumer recycled content. To ensure eco-efficiency and quality, they use a combination of PCR content and virgin materials.

The waste cycle is complete after the PCR packaging fully degrades. Customers only need to separate and dispose of it properly, and recycling facilities will take care of the rest.

How to make the switch to PCR packaging

Now that you're familiar with the terminologies and benefits of recycling, it's time to take action and outsource your packaging. List your options and speak with prospective suppliers to see what's out there.

Your packaging should reflect your brand identity. Along with recyclable materials, prioritize factors such as quality, functionality, and aesthetics. Run a cost-and-benefit analysis before making a decision.

🎁 That's a Wrap!

If you haven't compiled a list yet, noissue has circular packaging options you can choose from. Express your brand and take an eco-stand with our circular packaging solutions today. Sell sustainably and help reduce landfill pollution.