RECYCLING: Buying Recycled: Obstacles And Opportunities

Despite numerous campaigns, few communities encourage their procurement agents to buy recycled products on a regular basis.

Ironically, municipalities can benefit more than most organizations from a buy recycled policy, because the value of materials collected in municipal drop-off or curbside collection programs in-creases when demand for them is high; thus, collection programs be-come more cost-effective.

A 1995 survey of the 54 communities in Middlesex County, Mass., revealed that reasons for hesitating to adopt buy recycled policies varied from lack of interest to the higher costs of recycled content products. The few communities that have implemented a formal buy recycled policy were found to focus on paper products. Further analysis also showed that purchasing agents' guidelines and requirements varied from city to city.

For example, Ashland required that recycled paper products be purchased if they are competitively priced. A list of specific products that should be purchased with re-cycled content include copier pa-per, envelopes, bills and invoices. Chelmsford's policy was less de-manding, stating "whenever you are ordering paper supplies, please ask the vendor to use recycled paper."

Requirements to purchase non-paper recycled products were missing from most policies, the report said. However, Cambridge's draft policy addressed this issue by pro-posing a task force to help city agencies identify products that they regularly used that can be purchased with recycled content.

While the survey gave respondents the opportunity to explain why they didn't "buy recycled," it did not establish the basis for their main concern - the cost of recycled content products (see chart, page 12). Also, the survey did not explore how "buying recycled" could be made a higher priority, despite comments such as, "When the town board tells me to do it, then I'll make it a priority. Until then, I've got better things to do."

Several purchasing officials em-phasized the need for formal purchasing policies to alleviate problems such as: purchasing officials in the same town, but in different agencies, often have opposite buying habits - some buy recycled, and some do not; purchasing officials' accountability and a lack of communication between purchasing officials in different agencies.

With a formal policy, officials could share information, such as certain recycled products' availability and costs. This could improve buying habits across agencies.

On the other hand, many municipalities fail to take advantage of existing information and purchasing channels that facilitate buying recycled content products. How-ever, communities that band to-gether can save money by placing larger product orders and swapping product information.

Massachusetts' purchasing a-gency, the Department of Procure-ment and General Services (DPGS), includes municipalities in cooperative purchasing through state contracts. Such contracts buy materials used by state employees, in- cluding paper, asphalt and motor oil. Municipalities also buy other items currently available on state contract, including 31 recycled content products. Few report buying this way, however, because of the high contract price.

The survey's findings suggested that municipalities work with DPGS and others to establish a "Municipal Buy Recycled" challenge that will recognize existing municipal purchasing efforts and encourage new program development.

They recommend that purchasing agents: * work with DPGS and other groups to establish training sessions for municipal purchasing agents;

* encourage communities with buy recycled policies to participate in training sessions to discuss the policy's benefits; and

* establish a series of meetings to discuss issues such as recycled product specifications, suppliers and quality.

Finally, the survey recommended that municipalities make it easier to buy recycled:

* change the terms of the state bid-ding process to obtain better prices for products purchased through DPGS contracts;

* work with DPGS to increase the number of recycled content products available through state contracts that are of particular interest to municipalities; and

* encourage existing purchasing collaboratives to include the purchase of recycled content products.

For more information or to order a copy of Closing the Recycling Loop: A Report on Municipal "Buy Recycled" Practices in Massachu-setts, contact: Amy Perry, Mass-achusetts Public Interest Research Group, Boston. (617) 292-4800. Fax: 617) 292-8057.