This month I’m going to discuss two green products commonly referenced together because of their reliance on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines: paper products and can liners.

When it comes to hand towels and toilet tissue, we are primarily focused on reducing the environmental impacts by using post-consumer recycled content to cut down on the amount of waste sent to landfills; bleaching processes to reduce the use of elemental chlorine; and to improve forest management, which includes both forest certification and the use of rapidly renewable fiber sources.

It makes sense to also follow the requirements of facility “roadmaps” such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Rating Systems, the Healthy School Campaign’s “Quick and Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools” and Practice Greenhealth’s “Green Guide for Health Care” because most of your customers will defer to these guidelines when requesting green products. The good news is that all of these programs have similar definitions of green paper.

It is important to point out that while the specifications for chemicals in most of the roadmaps require “certified” products, it is not a requirement for paper products — although arguably, certification makes it easier for purchasers to identify green products. The specific paper requirements include meeting one of the following:

  • EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines for Janitorial Paper, which requires a minimum of 20 percent post-consumer recycled content for toilet tissue and a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer recycled content for hand towels.
  • Green Seal’s GS-09 for paper towels and napkins, which requires 100 percent recovered material and 40 percent post-consumer waste content. For tissue paper, its GS-01, which requires 100 percent recovered material and 20 percent post-consumer waste for toilet tissue (for facial tissue, 10 percent of the content must be post-consumer waste).
  • Environmental Choice’s CCD-082 for toilet tissue and CCD-086 for hand towels.
  • Janitorial paper products made from rapidly renewable resources or made from tree-free fibers such as those made from agricultural waste.

Other important considerations when selecting paper products include choosing a higher quality product which will typically be more absorbent leading to lower consumption and choosing a larger roll product over folded or smaller rolls will also lead to a reduction in consumption, which has huge environmental and budgetary benefits.

When evaluating plastic trash can liners you should first decide where you can eliminate the use of them altogether as this has the most positive impact on the environment — and cost. If the majority of your trash containers are used for dry materials, you may be able to eliminate the need for a liner all together. Recycling containers should not need liners, either. Another option would be bags made from cornstarch, which are biodegradable. However, before selecting these bags, check with the local trash hauler to determine if there is a local composting center because they will not degrade in landfills. When selecting a liner choose the right size for the container and the proper thickness for the application to eliminate the need for double-bagging.

Like paper, many facility programs require plastic trash can liners meet the EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines for Plastic Trash Can Liners which requires a minimum of 10 percent post-consumer recycled content. However, some argue that there are better liner options that use 100 percent virgin material because bags made of recycled content have impurities or weak spots and tend to tear more easily. To compensate, recycled bags have a higher mil count, creating a thicker bag, but use more material in the process. Using a 100 percent virgin material bag would reduce overall material use. At this time though, note that the roadmaps require the use of recycled plastic. These organizations’ rationale is that this will increase demand for recycled products, which helps build the recycling infrastructure, which in the long-term will reduce environmental impacts and cost of all recycled products.

Stephen Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group and executive director of the Green Cleaning Network.