What does environmentally preferable purchasing or EPP mean?
Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) means considering multiple environmental attributes of products and services before buying. It’s a market-based approach to making environmental improvement and protecting human health through our purchases, without sacrificing price or performance. EPP also means not purchasing—or reducing the purchase of—certain products or services that may have detrimental environmental or public health effects.
The Federal Government (in Executive Order 13423) defines the purchase of environmentally preferable products as “…products or services that have lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose. This comparison may consider raw materials acquisition, production, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, reuse, operation, maintenance, or disposal of the product or service.”
What are the environmental qualities I should look for?
Purchasers are encouraged to evaluate multiple environmental impacts of everyday products through their life cycle and to select products with attributes that minimize environmental and health risks. A product’s environmental attributes can include:
• Energy efficiency
• Recycled content
• Water conservation
• Resource sustainability
• Waste prevention
• Non-toxic material content
• Minimized packaging
• Third-party certification for any of the above attributes
Do recycled content or environmentally preferable products cost more?
Overall, cost differences will depend on the product, its quality and the existing market conditions. There are environmentally preferable products that cost less than their conventional counterparts. For example, several recycled printing papers cost less than virgin papers. The price of re-refined motor oil is now comparable to virgin motor oil. Also, many public agencies in the Bay Area and across the country have seen no overall cost increase after switching to “green” cleaning products. In addition, environmentally preferable products may last longer or require less maintenance than their counterparts. So even if there are higher initial costs, substantial savings may occur over time as a result. A variety of building materials also offer these benefits.
StopWaste and the Alameda County General Services Agency also offer guides to cooperative purchasing with other public agencies and tips for "piggybacking" on Alameda County contracts that may save time and money in "greening" your purchases.
Are these products high quality?
Many recycled or environmentally preferable products compare well in quality to their virgin material counterparts. As with any product on the market, quality depends on several factors. For example, a commercial toilet tissue manufacturer may offer two levels of quality: an economy (lower quality) and a premium quality product. Quality may also depend on the product’s maturity in the market. The quality of recycled paper, for instance, has come a long way in the last twenty years. For the most part, its quality is just as high as that of virgin paper.
As with any product (including virgin products), if one brand does not meet your expectations, you may need to experiment with a different vendor or brand to find the product that meets your specific needs
Where can individuals or small businesses find sources of environmentally-friendly products?
Here are just a few of the many available listings of "environmentally-friendly" household and business products:
StopWaste’s fact sheets list environmentally preferable products such as office paper, janitorial paper and office supplies, traffic control and parks and recreation products, and include lists of vendors, local distributors, and retail outlets for smaller purchases.
Responsible Shopper is a program of Green America that provides consumers with green purchasing and socially and environmentally responsible investment information.
CalRecycle (the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery) has many resources available on their website to help buy postconsumer recycled content products.
Where can government agencies or larger businesses find more resources on environmentally preferable purchasing?
An important step in purchasing environmentally preferable products for an agency or business is to gain management support. Adopting an agency-wide or corporate Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Policy can help with this effort. This website offers a Model Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) Policy that provides a menu of purchasing policy options. StopWaste's Green Purchasing Resources include a guide to purchasing strategies for green maintenance and operations, and product fact sheets with lists of local suppliers. Alameda County public agencies, institutions and businesses interested in more information about this policy or about buying EPP products can contact Rachel Balsley at (510) 891-6500.
The U.S. EPA Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines give recycled content recommendations for eight different types of products, including construction, landscaping, office (non-paper), paper, park and recreation, transportation, automotive and miscellaneous products.
The Responsible Purchasing Network is a non-profit organization established to help state and local governments and other large purchasers incorporate environmental considerations into their purchasing decisions. The website contains examples of government environmental purchasing policies and other purchasing resources. Note that some resources are available to members only.
The non-profit third-party certification organization, Green Seal, provides lists of green certified products and works with government and industry to develop product standards and resources.
What are the benefits of buying recycled content or environmentally preferable “green” products?
Choosing environmentally preferable products and services can reduce or eliminate the environmental and health impacts of your purchases. 100% recycled content paper, for example, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent, cut solid waste disposal by nearly 40%, decrease water use by 50 percent, and practically eliminate wood use. And one ton of 30% postconsumer recycled content paper (40 cartons of 10 reams each) saves over 7 trees.
Similarly, switching to safer, non-toxic cleaning products reduces incidents of allergic reactions, asthma, burns, and eye damage.
When looking for recycled content products, what do the terms “postconsumer,” “pre-consumer” and “total recycled content” mean?
Recycled products may contain either a percentage of materials collected from office/curbside recycling programs (postconsumer), a percentage of materials generated after the manufacture of a product but before it reaches the end-user (pre-consumer) and/or virgin materials. The combination of postconsumer and pre-consumer content provides the total recycled content. For example, recycled content copy paper with 30% postconsumer and 10% percent pre-consumer content would have 40% total recycled content.
Recycled products, however, may not always contain postconsumer content. Remember to ask for postconsumer recycled content when purchasing products, to support manufacturers that use the recyclables you set out at home or at work for recycling collection. Below are the formal definitions for these terms:
"Postconsumer Material" means a finished material which would normally be disposed of as a solid waste, having reached its intended end-use and completed its life cycle as a consumer item, and does not include manufacturing or converting waste.
“Pre-consumer Material” means material or by-products generated after manufacture of a product is completed but before the product reaches the end-use consumer, does not include mill and manufacturing trim, scrap, or broke which is generated at a manufacturing site and is commonly reused on-site in the same or another manufacturing process.
“Recycled Content” means the total percentage of recovered material in a product, including both pre-consumer and postconsumer materials.
How do I get started purchasing more of these products?
“Green” purchasing is no different from any other form of product evaluation usually done before a purchase is made, whether by governments, businesses or consumers. Environmental purchasing simply considers a greater range of product criteria. Departments may begin an environmental purchasing program by focusing initially on certain types of products or services and expanding to others as they gain experience.
Several cities in Alameda County have started by looking at contracts as they come up for competitive bid, and revising specifications for environmentally preferable products in phases. If you purchase for a public agency in Alameda County, the Alameda County General Services Agency is committed to sharing their resources and experiences to promote green purchasing in public agencies. Policies, success stories, bids, specifications and other resources are available at www.acsustain.org.
StopWaste can also provide governments and businesses with sample contract language and specifications, and lists of local vendors for a variety of products.
Will it cost more to buy recycled paper?
Many recycled papers cost the same as, or less than, virgin papers – especially papers used for letterhead, brochures and business cards. StopWaste’s Fact Sheet on Environmentally Preferable Paper Office Products in Alameda County offers tips for further cost savings. Conservatree also has useful information about the different types of environmentally preferable paper available for the large-scale purchaser and small-quantity purchasers, as well as those new to environmental papers.
Will recycled copy paper jam my machine?
This is a persistent myth that has long been busted. Back in 1998, three office equipment manufacturers and the U.S. Government Printing Office tested over two million sheets of recycled content office paper on various types and models of copiers, laser printers and ink jet printers. The results: multi-purpose paper containing 30% postconsumer recycled content worked just as well as virgin paper.
If paper jams in your copier, most likely the ream had sat opened for a long time and absorbed moisture. It is also possible that the paper was not formulated for copiers. Use paper qualified as "high-speed" for high-speed copiers. The machine may also need cleaning or adjusting. Or simply try another brand of recycled paper, just as you'd try another brand of virgin paper. See Conservatree’s website for more information about environmental papers and a quick guide to paper sources.
Do remanufactured toner cartridges really work?
Yes, but as with most products, you still need to be a smart consumer. Remanufactured toner cartridge companies have sold quality products to satisfied customers for years, but that is no guarantee against faulty products. To ensure quality service and product, check the manufacturer’s quality assurance program. Ask for references. Refer to our Fact Sheet on Remanufactured Toner Cartridges in Alameda County for additional information. The cost savings could be significant.
What types of environmentally preferable office supplies are available?
Look for rechargeable batteries, water-based and non-toxic highlighters and markers, and 10-100% postconsumer recycled content plastic trash bag liners. Plastic desktop accessories like notepad and pencil holders, trays and organizers can be made with 25-80% postconsumer content. Plastic binders can contain up to 100% postconsumer recycled content, depending on the type of plastic. More companies are producing supplies made from recycled fiber materials so look for fiber-based office supplies with postconsumer recycled content. For more information see our Fact Sheet on Environmentally Preferable Non-Paper Office Products in Alameda County.