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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 a certain product or service when it may have detrimental environmental or public health effects.  

The Federal Government (in Executive Order 13101) 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 when considering an environmentally preferable product?

Users 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
  • Recyclability
  • Durability
  • Water efficiency
  • Resource conservation
  • Waste prevention
  • Toxic material content
  • Minimizes packaging

What are the benefits of buying recycled content or environmentally preferable products?

Choosing environmentally preferable products and services can mitigate the environmental and health impacts with purchases of everyday products. Recycled content paper, for example, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent, cut solid waste disposal in half, decrease water use by 50 percent, and practically eliminate wood use.  One ton of 30% postconsumer recycled content paper (40 cartons of 10 reams each) saves over 7 trees.

Similarly, switching to safer, less toxic cleaning products reduces incidents of allergic reactions, asthma, burns, and eye damage.

When looking for recycled content products, what do the terms “postconsumer,” “preconsumer” 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 (preconsumer) and/or virgin materials. The combination of preconsumer and postconsumer content provides the total recycled content.  For example, recycled content copy paper with 30% postconsumer and 10% percent preconsumer 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 wastes.

“Preconsumer Material” means material or by-products generated after manufacture of a product is completed but before the product reaches the end-use consumer. Preconsumer material does not include mill and manufacturing trim, scrap, or broke which is generated at a manufacturing site and commonly reused on-site in the same or another manufacturing process.

“Recycled Content” means the percentage of recovered material, including preconsumer and postconsumer materials, in a product.

How do I get started purchasing more of these products?

Environmental purchasing is no different from any other form of product evaluation done as part of purchasing by governments, businesses and consumers.  Environmental purchasing simply considers a greater range of product criteria. Departments may begin by focusing initially on certain types of products or services and expanding to others as they gain experience.

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.  For example, several recycled printing papers cost less than virgin papers.  Recycled plastic trash can liners (for commercial use) cost less than virgin because the postconsumer plastic resin is currently priced lower in the market than virgin plastic resin.  The price of re-refined motor oil is now comparable with virgin motor oil.  Also, many public agencies across the country have seen no overall cost increase switching to “green” cleaning products.  On the other hand, environmentally preferable products may last longer or require less maintenance than their counterparts.  So even with higher initial costs, substantial savings may occur over time as a result.  A variety of building materials offer these benefits.

Will these types of products be inferior quality?

There are many quality recycled or environmentally preferable products that compare well to their virgin counterparts.  As with any product on the market, quality depends on several factors.  Commercial toilet tissue, for instance, may be manufactured at two quality levels by the same company, as an economical (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 and for the most part, has just as high quality as virgin paper.

As with any product (including virgin products), if one product 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.

I'm a government agency or larger business, what are some more resources on environmentally preferable purchasing?

An important step in purchasing environmentally preferable products for an agency or business would be management support that could come from adoption of an agency-wide or corporate Environmentally Preferable Policy.  Our website offers a Model Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) Policy that provides a menu of purchasing policy options.
  • Building Green, Inc., provides over 1,800 environmentally preferable building materials, specifications and resources in the GreenSpec Directory.  Practical information on sustainable design can be found in Environmental Building News (EBN), a subscription-based newsletter.  For more information visit,
  • The non-profit organization, Green Seal, provides lists of green certified products, working with government and industry to develop product standards and resources,

Will it cost more to buy recycled paper?

Many recycled papers are equal to or less than the cost of virgin papers – especially papers used for letterhead, brochures and business cards.  Our Fact Sheet on Environmentally Preferable Paper Office Products offers several tips for further cost savings.The Ecological Guide To Paper produced by Celery Design Collaborative also has useful information about the different types of environmentally preferable paper available (

Will recycled copy paper jam my machine?

This is a persistent myth. As long ago as 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.  They found multi-purpose paper containing 30% postconsumer recycled content worked just as well as virgin paper.

If paper jams in your copier, it’s most likely the ream sat opened for a long time and absorbed moisture.  Sometimes people use paper that's not formulated for copiers.  Use paper qualified as "high-speed" for high-speed copiers.  The machine may also need cleaning or adjusting.


Do remanufactured toner cartridges really work?

Yes, but like with most products, you need to be a smart consumer.  For many years, remanufactured toner cartridge companies have sold quality products to satisfied customers.  To ensure quality service and product, check with the manufacturer on their quality assurance program.  Ask for references.  Refer to our Fact Sheet on Remanufactured Toner Cartridges for additional information. The cost savings could be significant!

What other kinds of office supplies have more beneficial environmental attributes?

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.  Check for plastic binders with up to 100% postconsumer recycled content depending on the type of plastic.  See our Fact Sheet on Environmentally Preferable Nonpaper Office Products.

IPCC would like to thank for providing Environmentally Preferable Purchasing information.