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What is the Recycled Content Tool?

The Recycled Content (ReCon) Tool was created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help companies and individuals estimate life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy impacts from purchasing and/or manufacturing materials with varying degrees of post-consumer recycled content.

The ReCon Tool calculates GHG emissions and energy consumption related to purchasing and/or manufacturing activities using analyses of baseline and alternative recycled-content scenarios. Emissions and energy units are calculated using a life-cycle perspective (i.e., what impacts will this purchasing or manufacturing decision have on emissions and energy use throughout all stages of this product’s life-cycle). The model calculates emissions in metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2E), and energy consumption in British thermal units (Btu) for several material types. In addition, the model calculates the GHG emissions and energy consumption differential between the two recycled-content scenarios (baseline and alternative). The user can construct various scenarios by entering the amount of materials purchased or manufactured and the recycled content of the types of materials. The ReCon Tool then applies material-specific GHG emission and energy factors to calculate the GHG emissions and energy consumption for each scenario and the benefit of choosing one scenario over another.

The GHG emission and energy factors in the tool were developed using a life-cycle assessment methodology that is consistent with international guidance on GHG accounting (IPCC Guidelines). EPA’s report Solid Waste Management and Greenhouse Gases: A Life-Cycle Assessment of Emissions and Sinks (EPA 530-R-06-004) (PDF) (144 pp, 924 K, About PDF) describes the methodology used to quantify emissions and sinks in detail. A basic formula for calculating the GHG implications of increasing recycled content in products is detailed on p. 33 of the report. For a free copy of this report call EPA’s RCRA hotline at (800) 424-9346. The latest version of this report was released Fall 2006 but updated documentation is under development. This version also reflects revised data on the average recycled content values for materials available in the marketplace, and the EPA’s latest MSW characterization report Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2008.

The ReCon Tool contains two output sheets, one for GHG emissions and another for energy consumption. The “GHG Output Sheet” provides an estimate of the total “upstream” GHG emissions (based on manufacturing processes, carbon sequestration, and avoided disposal) related to the manufacture of the materials with recycled content. The “Energy Output Sheet” provides an estimate of the total energy consumed (based on manufacturing processes and avoided disposal) related to the manufacture of materials with recycled content.


ReCon and WARM were developed for purchasers and waste managers, respectively. ReCon calculates the benefits of alternative recycled content purchasing decisions. WARM, on the other hand, calculates the benefits of alternative end-of-life waste management decisions. Both tools calculate the benefits of an alternative scenario versus a business-as-usual scenario.

The WARM and ReCon tools are based on a life-cycle approach, which reflects emissions and avoided emissions upstream and downstream from the point of use. As such, the emission factors provided in these tools provide an account of the net benefit of these actions to the environment. This life-cycle approach is not appropriate for use in inventories because of the diffuse nature of the emissions and emission reductions contained in a single emission factor.

Who Should Use the ReCon Tool?

The ReCon Tool was developed for company representatives and individuals who want to calculate GHG emissions and energy consumption associated with purchasing and manufacturing activities using baseline and alternate recycled-content scenarios. Emission estimates provided by the ReCon Tool are intended to support voluntary GHG measurement and reporting initiatives.

The ReCon Tool may be useful for procurement specialists participating in the EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG) Program. This program encourages the purchase of materials with the highest recycled content practicable by maintaining a catalog of CPG materials and background information to be referenced by procuring agencies. CPG materials include HDPE drums and fencing, newsprint, and steel sign posts. The GHG and energy consumption impact of purchasing these materials with varying degrees of recycled content can be determined using this Tool.

Using the ReCon Tool


Because ReCon employs macros, users must have Excel security set to medium (recommended) or low (not recommended). To change this setting in Excel 2003 or earlier, the user must first launch Microsoft Excel before opening ReCon. Once in Excel, go to the Tools menu, click on the Macro sub-menu, and then select “Security”. The Security box will appear. Click on the “Security Level” tab and select medium. When set to high, macros are automatically disabled; when set to medium, Excel will give users the choice to enable macros; when set to low, macros are always enabled. When Excel security is set to medium, users are asked whether to enable macros upon opening the module. Click “Enable Macros” in order to activate macros. This will allow the tool to function properly.

To change this setting in Excel 2007, the user must first launch Microsoft Excel before opening ReCon. Once in Excel, click on the Microsoft Office logo in the top left corner and select “Excel Options”. In the menu bar on the left, select “Trust Center” and click on the “Trust Center Settingsā€¦” button. In the Trust Center window, select “Macro Settings” from the menu bar on the left, and make sure that the radio button next to “Disable all macros with notification” is selected, and then click “OK” to close the window. Macros must be enabled in order for the ReCon Tool to work. When opening the tool, a warning bar will appear at the top of the screen reading “Some active content has been disabled.” Click on the “Optionsā€¦” button in the warning bar, and select the radio button next to “Enable this content” in the “Microsoft Office Security Settings” window that appears. Click “OK” to close the window.

To use the ReCon Tool, the user will need to enter data on purchasing and/ or manufacturing practices and recycled-content percentages for baseline and alternate scenarios (i.e., percent recycled content of existing stock and potential percent recycled content of available stock). The user should know how much material is purchased and/ or manufactured for a given time period, and will need to specify the recycled content for each material. Default recycled-content values are provided for the baseline scenario if that information is not readily available.

User Instructions:

Click on the “Input Sheet” tab at the bottom left of the screen to open the input sheet for the Tool. Follow the instructions for Steps 1 and 2 to fill in the tables describing your purchasing or manufacturing amounts, and the baseline and proposed alternative recycled-content scenarios. The miscellaneous material types are defined as the following:

Step 1: enter the material type and the total pounds purchased or manufactured. Please combine items that are of the same basic material. For example, 2,000 lbs of steel drums and 2,000 lbs of steel rods should be combined to 4,000 lbs of steel products. The list of example surrogate materials provides guidance to the user in selecting the best “approximate” category for the material purchased or manufactured (e.g., the surrogate material category for wood desks, wood shelving, and raw wood materials would be the dimensional lumber material category). Please note that the surrogate materials provided offer only an approximate estimate for a given material. If the user does not have material weight information, the “Unit Converter” provides a calculator for determining the weight of typical items for each material type, as well as a calculator for determining the weight of a given ream of paper.

Step 2: enter recycled content data for the baseline and alternative scenarios. If this data is unavailable, click on the “default recycled content” button and the tool will enter typical recycled-content values for each of the material types; clicking on the button again will reset the table. The default values are considered to be typical post-consumer recycled-content estimates for items produced using recovered materials. In cases where the user has recycled content data for selected materials, but not for others, the user may access default data by checking the box in the appropriate row.

There are two options for handling multiple materials of the same type, but with different levels of recycled content:

  1. The user can run the module multiple times using each of the individual recycled-content values. After each run the values would then be recorded by the user for later reference; or
  2. The user can create a weighted average of the recycled content of each of the materials and run the module only once. The user would then enter the total amount of the materials, and use the weighted average recycled content for the baseline and alternate scenarios. For example, 90 lbs of 50% recycled content office paper and 10 lbs of 10% recycled-content office paper would be combined to 100 lbs of 46% recycled content office paper. {The recycled-content weighted average was calculated using the following equation: [(90 lbs * 50%) + (10 lbs * 10%)]/ (90 lbs + 10 lbs) = 46%}

Click on the “GHG Output Sheet” or “Energy Output Sheet” to view the results of the baseline and alternative scenario estimates of GHG emissions and energy consumption. The difference between the baseline and alternative scenarios represents the benefit of increasing the recycled content of materials purchased or manufactured. For ease of comprehension, the emissions and energy benefits estimated in the tool are converted to more familiar units such as gallons of gas and number of cars.


If you need additional assistance with the ReCon Tool, please email orcrWARMquestions@epa.gov.

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