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What is Recycled Content?

The Federal Trade Commission exists to protect consumer rights in the U.S. So, what does the Federal Trade Commission have to do with sustainability?

The FTC has been issuing the Green Guides since 1992. Unfortunately, most people (in sustainability in the U.S.) need to learn that this document exists. This guidance document helps companies make claims NOT to greenwash, thus protecting the consumer. According to the most current, recently updated version, the guidance includes

  1. general principles that apply to all environmental marketing claims,

  2. how consumers are likely to interpret particular claims and how marketers can substantiate these claims, and

  3. how marketers qualify their claims to avoid deceiving consumers. In addition, the new version changes include new guidance on marketers' use of product certifications and seals of approval, claims about materials and energy sources that are "renewable," and "carbon offset" claims.

A term often misunderstood is Recycled Content. I often discuss this in working with life cycle assessments and raw materials that qualify as recycled content. According to Green Guides,

“recycled raw materials are materials that have been recovered or otherwise diverted from the waste stream, either during the manufacturing process (pre-consumer/post-industrial) or after consumer use (post-consumer). If the source of recycled content includes pre-consumer material, the advertiser should have substantiation that the pre-consumer material would otherwise have entered the waste stream.

Recycled content claims may— but do not have to—distinguish between pre-consumer and post-consumer materials. Where a marketer distinguishes between pre-consumer and post-consumer materials, it should have substantiation for any express or implied claim about the percentage of pre-consumer or post-consumer content in an item.”

An interesting example that highlights the most significant determinant of whether a raw material is considered is whether the material would enter the waste stream. The following example highlights raw material that is NOT regarded as RECYCLED. I think this type of "recycled content" is often marketed as recycled content when it is not. The FTC considers that to be deceptive marketing. Having poor manufacturing processes and producing waste is not rewarded by the FTC by making a recycled content claim. It is when the material cannot be reused in the same facility and would otherwise go to the landfill that it can be considered recycled content. Think of wood dust from sanding and sawing. This cannot be used by the sawmill and would go t a landfill if not sold to process board manufacturers that use it for raw material.

"A manufacturer collects spilled raw material and scraps from the original manufacturing process. After a minimal amount of reprocessing, the manufacturer combines the spills and scraps with virgin material to produce the same product. Therefore, a recycled content claim is deceptive since the spills and scraps are normally reused by industry within the original manufacturing process and would not normally have entered the waste stream."

Do you have any questions or thoughts, or would you like a free Recycled Content Template for use in LEED v4.1 projects? Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn: or my website at

Presented by

Denice Viktoria Staaf

LEED AP BD+C, Fitwel Ambassador, EPD & HPD Approved Preparer

ESG Consultant and Circularity Expert



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