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Green Purchasing: Buying Recycled Products


James T. Milway, C.P.M.
James T. Milway, C.P.M., President, The Purchasing Department, Maplewood, NJ 07040-2118, 201/275-1188.

81st Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1996 - Chicago, IL

The Issues.
Environmentally and economically we need to reclaim our resources back from the waste pile and remanufacture them into new commodities thus creating opportunities for new technologies, new products, new markets and a new economic future. Purchasing plays a vital role in this process. Buying recycled reuses material and energy, which when reinvested in remanufacture of products adds billions of dollars to those resources. We in the procurement profession need to learn how to buy recycled products efficiently and effectively in order to benefit the economic and environmental needs of the companies we serve.

The Opportunity.
Save money through cost avoidance and cost reductions in the procurement process by buying recycled products. I plan on focusing in on the following areas:

  • Reviewing the basics for buying recycled products
  • Updating your methods and concepts
  • Meeting your companies economic and environmental objectives
  • Learning how to use program materials to identify commodities and sources of supply
  • Networking for success

The question we have to ask ourselves is "Why should we buy recycled products?". First it demonstrates Positive Leadership- by choosing a proactive stance, establishing economic and environmental success stories, and it builds private/public partnerships. Second because dollars are added to the economy each time we reuse materials in the remanufacture of products.

Buying recycled products is Economically Positive- it saves money, convinces manufacturers to use additional recycled materials, creates jobs and contributes to economic development, generates new markets, reduces disposal of materials, and avoids disposal costs. It is Environmentally Positive- It conserves resources and energy, reduces the need for waste disposal facilities, minimizes potential contaminants and pollutants, and conveys a reductionism/reuse ethic.

The Steps-
Begin with the "Development of a Buy Recycle Program". All this takes is some initiative and the support of others. It doesn't have to start at the top but the following is a model that has worked.

Try and get "Top Gun Commitment"- Buy Recycled moves most powerfully when the commitment starts from the top. Chief executive officers and department directors must make buying recycled products a corporate policy.

The program should have a "Dream Team"- A cross-functional team with procurement serving as the lead area with involvement from facilities management, contracting, operations, manufacturing, and environmental health and safety. This team needs to exchange information about products, standards, specifications, performance requirements and needs.

Next you need to "Set Goals and Schedules"- Buy Recycled requires setting specific purchasing goals and a timetable. Start with one major recycled product that you purchase as an alternative to an existing commodity; perhaps business cards and stationary as an example to show top management is supporting this initiative. Or something as basic as plastic trash can liners. Review the specifications for these products and their usage, check out other vendors, compare prices and issue a request for quotation.

Then you should prepare a "Program of Policies, Preferences and Mandates". It's necessary to communicate to the "troops" but the message can be simple-"Take the next step- Buy Recycled!"

After you have a program in place advertise. Promote every thing you do. Show success stories and recognize the achievements of the team.

Finally, Monitor the Means- by periodically measuring your results, the amounts and prices of purchasing a wide range of products. Benchmark from year to year and publish your findings.

It takes education and enthusiasm to get buy in and success. It starts with dispelling "MYTHstakes and in Providing Real Answers about Recycled Products".

"They cost more!"- If recycled paper (or any recycled product) cost more why should we buy it? One good example is last year paper was a commodity that was on allocation for some and many needed to buy recycled paper just to satisfy demand. And it was worth paying a small premium. How many more items or services do we pay a little bit more for to meet service, quality or corporate objectives?

"They're of poor quality!"- What if the new product is of poor quality and doesn't meet our needs? The issue of quality is simple. If the product doesn't work, return it or don't buy it in the first place. All products must meet specifications. But don't we have similar problems with virgin products as well as recycled products. We can always work with suppliers to resolve quality issues and we can use a phased-in approach to introduce new products to insure they work as intended. Also ask your self- "Do we really need all that quality in some of the things we buy? Perhaps we should be doing some value analysis.

"They're in limited supply!"- What if I can't get enough of the recycled product? The supply of recycled products is constantly growing. If we create the demand the manufacturers will jump at the opportunity to produce. You can see this happening in the paper industry right now. And if you network with people who buy recycled products they will be happy to share what they know about where and what to buy. It all helps the cause.

"They receive preferential treatment!"- We "go out of our way" in many ways for many businesses. Government has mandated purchasing requirements such as "buy American", or set-asides for various categories of " disadvantaged businesses". Economic development authorities provide special loans and guarantees to businesses they wish to attract to the region. There are many other "subsidies" offered as special incentives to help business. So what's the problem?

As part of our education process we need to learn a few definitions:
What is a recycled product?- It is any product which is manufactured or produced, in whole or in part, from post-consumer material. It may be equivalent to a product produced from virgin material content, or it may be an original for which there is no virgin counterpart. A product which has been rebuilt or remanufactured, such as a rebuilt engine or a rehabilitated modular room partition, may also be considered a recycled product. I bet you're already buying some of these recycled products to save purchasing dollars today and just never classified them as "recycled products".

What is post consumer material?- Post-consumer refers to any finished product (e.g., writing paper, plastic soda bottle, wood pallet, etc.) which has served its intended end use to a consumer, and has then been separated from the solid waste stream for recycling or disposal.

What is the difference between a recycled material and a recycled product?-
A recycled material is the used, discarded product which becomes the raw material to manufacture another product. A recycled product is a "finished" article or commodity, made with the recycled material, designed for purchase and end use.

Why do states like New Jersey certify post-consumer recyclable content?-
Post-consumer content is validated by the same method as other manufacturing claims. Certifications, warranties and guarantees are accepted as presented by suppliers. For a New Jersey state contract for recycled paper, a paper mill must sign a certification form that states how much post-consumer, recycled paper went into the overall paper mix which filled the state order. There are an increasing number of national companies which certify or guarantee a variety of environmental claims, such as the percentage of post-consumer content used in the manufacturing process.

There are a great many resources available to assist companies and buyers to efficiently and effectively buy recycled products. Some of the organizations that can be contacted for help are:

National Recycling Coalition (NRC)- The National Recycle Coalition is a non-profit organization representing all the diverse interests committed to the common goal of maximizing recycling as an integral part of waste and resource management. Its 4,000 members include recycling and environmental organizations, large and small businesses, state and local governments, and individuals. The Coalition, based in Washington, D.C., provides technical education, disseminates public information, shapes public information, shapes public and private policy on recycling, and operates programs that encourage recycling market and economic development.

Buy Recycle Business Alliance- The Buy Recycle Business Alliance is a joint effort of the National Recycling Coalition and more than 100 companies who are committed to aggressively buy more recycled product and lead the business community by their example. Recent reports indicate that Alliance members are not only purchasing more and different types of recycled products without sacrificing quality or price, but they are urging their vendors, suppliers and customers to do the same.

For more information on these two organizations you can write or call The Buy Recycled Campaign at the National Recycling Coalition, 1101 30th Street NW, Suite 305, Washington, DC 20007, 202-625-6409 or FAX to: 202-625-6409. They have published and made available the "Buy Recycled Guide Book".

In New Jersey we are fortunate in having an organization called:
New Jersey Buy Recycle Business Network- The New Jersey Buy Recycle Business Network is a leadership group of companies committed to increasing their purchase of recycled content products. In cooperation with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection and Energy, the Network encourages businesses of all sizes to purchase recycled products and materials as part of their day-to-day operations. The Network is a charter member of the Buy Recycle Business Alliance. Membership involves signing the Buy Recycled Business Network Charter to commit to purchasing recycled products. Each company agrees to survey its current procurement practices and follow with a second survey one year after undertaking an educational effort to buy recycled. The Network encourages members to report their initiatives and has a group of members that meet periodically to coordinate member activities. They provide excellent resources to help companies and buyers achieve their objectives. They recently published "Buy Into The Future: How To Purchase Recycled Products" and distributed it to its members. For more information you can contact: The New Jersey Buy Recycled Network at Bell Atlantic - Recycling, 650 Park Avenue- 2nd Floor, East Orange, NJ 07017. Telephone (609) 530-8208 0r FAX: (609) 530-8899.

What are some of the benefits of joining these organizations?

    - Technical assistance and access to an extensive information network on recycled products. We already know that Recycled products are becoming more widely available, quality is increasing dramatically and cost are becoming competitive.
  • Contact with major companies with effective buying practices.
  • Peer counseling on any aspect of buying recycled.
  • Resource information and step-by-step guide books to help you establish and expand your own program and evaluate recycled content products.
  • Newsletters and correspondence with tips on successful programs, cost savings ideas and information on new products.
  • Media and public relations opportunities.

What else has to be done besides joining organizations and just buying more recycled products? In procurement the door that needs to be opened to managing materials and buying recycled products is the specification. If we are going to be successful in unlocking markets for those recycled products we have to change specifications by:

  • Eliminating prohibitions or limitations that unnecessarily prevent the purchase of recycled product
  • Try to use performance specifications which describe how the product or service offered must perform.
  • Consider what specifications you may have included which are irrelevant to the performance of the product. Does color such as bright white affect the serviceability of toilet paper? Is the type of package significant to your purchasing concerns?

We can also educate our selves and our recycling team by getting out to trade shows and conferences. I took the opportunity and encouraged Bellcore's recycling team to attend national conferences held by NRC and the Buy Recycle Coalition and attend their annual meetings. In our great state of New Jersey we had local conferences on "Taking The Next Step", "$core with Wa$tewi$e" and the "Recycling Regulatory Revolution" which were sponsored by the State Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)and the "Association of New Jersey Recyclers" (ANJR). You should search out and attend trade shows and conferences in your area. They provide excellent seminars and workshops that are motivational and attract outstanding speakers. And they also provide an excellent opportunity to network with many suppliers- all at one time and one place. We all know how valuable our time is and how important it is to conserve resources. So be sure and take advantage of these opportunities and attend when you can.

The last thing I'd like to share with you in this paper is how to obtain and use "Guides to Buying Recycled Products". First contact the organizations I cited earlier as to being resources and ask them for their guides. Then when you get copies thoroughly read the cover letters, introduction, and the table of contents. Typically business directories will contain directions for use and will have both product and company lists. They may also have lists of manufacturers and distributors and special sections such as Recycled Paper Distributors. These directories represent an accumulation of knowledge from many sources (e.g. agencies, buyers, suppliers and trade associations, etc.) They are usually out dated the day they are published. But they do serve as an excellent reference and starting point. They will encourage your feedback to facilitate updating and will provide a contact point for you to provide your input to.

Conclusions and Recommendations.
Buying recycled products protects our natural resources and provides the opportunity to close the loop on the recycle process. It can be done economically and help the environment at the same time. Materials recovery and buying recycled offers excellent potential in job creation, industrial development, property tax base growth, and economic stimulation. We all need to be part of the process and purchasing is in position to lead the way. So lets get on with job and create win-win opportunities for all of us.


  1. Association of New Jersey Recyclers. "New Jersey Business Guide to Recycled Products". Provided for the New Jersey Buy Recycled Network. 1995
  2. Kushner, Helen. "Buying into the Future: How to buy recycled Products" Prepared for the New Jersey Buy Recycled Business Network by the Bureau of Recycling and Planning, Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Spring 1995.
  3. National Recycling Coalition, Inc. "Buy Recycled Guide Book" 1993

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