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Saving Cash with Second-Time-Around Goods

A consortium encourages its members to conserve resources by using recycled materials.
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If you color your office walls with Green Paint instead of with some name-brand product, you'll save as much as 40%, claims the National Recycling Coalition (NRC), based in Washington, D.C. Now even modest-size enterprises, like the Green Paint Co., a reprocessor of old paint in Maunchaug, Mass., are enlisting in the NRC-spawned Buy Recycled Business Alliance (BRBA), a consortium of manufacturers, suppliers, and just plain corporate purchasers pledged to conserving resources through the use of recycled materials.

Since its inception, in 1992, when it was organized by 25 blue-chip corporate activists such as McDonald's and AT&T, the BRBA has blossomed to nearly 700 companies, about four-fifths of them small businesses. Their aim: to reduce the glut of supply in postconsumer waste by inducing demand for products made from that waste. "As a society," says BRBA coordinator Philip Bailey, whose goal is to spread "Buy Recycled" programs across the United States, "we were too busy pushing recycling through the collection process when we should have been pulling it 'through the loop' by focusing on the economic benefits of buying recycled materials back."

Last year members' purchases of a variety of second-time-around goods climbed to $10.5 billion, nearly quadrupling 1992's $2.7 billion. Among the goods bought: antifreeze fluid, carpeting, drainpipes, mulch, roofing, floor tiles, and speed bumps, as well as everyday office supplies. (See table, right.) Many companies, such as City Markets, a small Colorado grocery chain, have helped fuel that expansion because they feel that using environmentally friendly materials like soy-based inks is the right thing to do. The increase wasn't driven entirely by public spirit, however. For example, American Airlines found it could save $33,000 by printing its annual report on recycled paper. And otherwise obscure recycled-goods vendors, like Seventh Generation, a Colchester, Vt., cataloger of environment-friendly products, benefit because the BRBA provides a free forum in which to promote their wares to recycled-goods devotees.

BRBA membership is free and includes programs that help members confront waste at the supply end as well. (One tip: using a fax/modem rather than a stand-alone machine saves paper both in sending and in receiving faxes.) Thanks largely to the BRBA-induced multibillion-dollar market, national office-supply vendors and retailers have broadened their lines to include goods made of hard-to-move detritus such as contaminated motor oil, batteries, and discarded tires. Call the National Recycling Coalition (202-625-6406) for a kit describing BRBA membership benefits -- one of which is a 30-page guidebook on how to implement a recycling program and where to find reusable goods. -- Researched by Karen E. Carney

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Recycled May Mean Cheaper
For years, products such as recycled printing paper and stationery, although dutifully fabricated from curbside waste, have sold at substantial premiums over their virgin counterparts. But under the BRBA's two-year-old campaign to reduce the glut of postconsumer materials (see above), the market for such products has grown. As a result of the new demand, retail prices have tumbled to the point at which the cost of some recycled-content goods is dramatically less than that of their virgin counterparts. That trend can only continue, predicts the BRBA's coordinator, Philip Bailey.

Here's a sampling of common desktop furnishings, taken late this past winter from the national catalog of BRBA member Quill, an office-supply retailer. Prices shown are the medians for each category.

Item Recycled Virgin
Laser-printer toner cartridge, each $49.96 $84.96

Manila file folders, letter size, per 100 4.99 5.99

Laser paper, white 20# premium, per ream 4.98 5.69

Bulletin board*, 18 by 24 inches 8.99 14.48

Pencils, per dozen .89 1.39

Computer tractor paper, 20# green, per 2,500 sheets 33.98 36.97

Source: Quill Corp. catalog. *made from recycled tires

But not all accoutrements bring savings in their postconsumer reincarnation. Virgin-paper adding-machine rolls are $33.88 per case, but so are the recycled ones. Not even 700 businesses can whip up much of a market for a product few use nowadays.

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Last updated: May 1, 1994




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