Recovered and Recycled: Paper Fiber Types Defined

July 2015

Recycled content is defined in various ways by different organizations. Environmental claims that use the term “recycled paper” may be using the ISO or U.S. EPA definition of recycled.

A specific example of the application of these differing definitions is in regard to magazine papers. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) considers magazines that reach the newsstand, are not sold, and are used again for recycled paper to be post-consumer material. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), magazines that reach the newsstand, are not sold, and are used again for recycled paper are considered pre-consumer material.

The following are definitions of three well known and often-cited organizations.

International Organization of Standardization (ISO)
Recycled content is defined by ISO 14021

Recycled content: Proportion, by mass, of recycled material in a product or packaging. Only pre-consumer and post-consumer materials shall be considered as recycled content, consistent with the following usage of the terms:

  • Pre-consumer material: Material diverted from the waste stream during a manufacturing process. Excluded is reutilization of materials such as rework, regrind or scrap generated in a process and capable of being reclaimed within the same process that generated it.
  • Post-consumer material: Material generated by households or by commercial, industrial and institutional facilities in their role as end-users of the product, which can no longer be used for its intended purpose. This includes returns of material from the distribution chain.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

According to the U.S. EPA paper fiber types are defined as either “virgin” or “recovered”. “Recycled paper” refers to an end-product. “Virgin” fiber refers to cellulose fiber derived directly from trees and other plants that is newly pulped, previously unused.

Recovered Fiber refers to:

  • Post-consumer fiber such as paper, paperboard, and fibrous materials from retail stores, office buildings, homes, and so forth, after they have passed through their end-use as a consumer item; all paper, paperboard, and fibrous materials that enter and are collected from municipal solid waste; and,
  • Manufacturing waste such as dry paper and paperboard waste generated after completion of the papermaking process; and repulped finished paper and paperboard from obsolete inventories of paper and paperboard.

Recycled Paper can be called “recycled” only if it contains 100 percent post-consumer recovered fiber. If the post-consumer content is less than 100 percent, the paper should be labeled “recycled-content” paper.

U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Recycled content: A recycled content claim may be made only for materials that have been recovered or otherwise diverted from the solid waste stream, either during the manufacturing process (pre-consumer), or after consumer use (post-consumer). To the extent [that] the source of recycled content includes pre-consumer material, the manufacturer or advertiser must have substantiation for concluding that the pre-consumer material would otherwise have entered the solid waste stream. In asserting a recycled content claim, distinctions may be made between pre-consumer and post-consumer materials. Where such distinctions are asserted, any express or implied claim about the specific pre-consumer or post-consumer content of a product or package must be substantiated.