Recycled Content:
What is it and What is it Worth?

Recovered-Material Levels for the Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG)

The recycled-content ranges in this table represent most of the construction and other building-related items from the U.S. EPA’s Consolidated Recovered Materials Advisory Notice, last revised in April 2004. These notices implement the Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG). See for details. Federal agencies and others using federal dollars for large purchases are required by regulation and executive order to implement programs that provide preference for materials meeting these guidelines, as long as performance, availability, and price are not unduly compromised. “EAF” refers to electric arc furnace, and “BOF” refers to basic oxygen furnace.

Recycled content is the most widely cited attribute of green building products. Numerous federal, state, and local government agencies have “buy recycled” programs aimed at increasing markets for recycled materials—these programs typically have an explicit goal of supporting recycling programs to reduce solid-waste disposal. A handful of programs claim to target environmentally preferable purchasing in a broader sense, yet in practice they focus almost exclusively on recycled content because that attribute is ostensibly easy to define and measure. But even this relatively quantifiable attribute can be tricky to document, and its presumed environmental benefits have rarely been tested. In the 1970s, the U.S. public began expressing concerns about litter, overflowing landfills, and a proliferation of waste-to-energy incinerators. The far-reaching federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA) addresses many aspects of solid- and hazardous-waste management. Tucked away in Section 6002(e) of RCRA is a mandate that requires anyone spending federal dollars to give preference to items made with materials that have been recovered from the waste stream. The same mandate directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to designate items that are or can be made with recovered materials, and to help others procure these products—resulting in the Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines program from EPA’s Office of Solid Waste (see chart). ...

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