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Eco-friendly Products Word Hunt: Pre-consumer Recycled Preshrunk 69% Cotton/29% Acrylic/2% Other

Published 21 October 10 05:14 PM
That's a mouthful.

Who doesn't love tee shirts? They're comfy, everyone's got some and from a promotional standpoint, they get the message across. Thanks to recently neglecting a large pile of laundry, I'm currently working my way through my big tee shirt collection, from "Vocabulary Olympics Champion, 4th Grade" to "Violent Femmes Staff" to various shirts depicting fun runs I've never participated in to one of my personal favorites, a nod to New Kids on the Block from second grade that says my elementary school has "the right stuff." Glad I held onto those.

Tee shirts have come a long way since my second- and fourth-grade days, however. Now, they're made with fancy new stuff, and one particular term in our apparel category caught my eye. I decided to make it part of my eco-friendly word hunt to get to the bottom of its meaning. These recycled tee shirts, which come in nine colors and are embroidered with your message, are made of pre-consumer recycled preshrunk 69% cotton/29% acrylic/2% other. What's that again?

What I Think It Means With No Prior Knowledge: I know what cotton is. I know what acrylic is, thanks to my shoddy sewing skills. That 2 percent other ... well, that could be anything, but I'm sure it's cool and not hotdogs. I get "preshrunk," too. That means buyers won't end up with recycled tee shirts that after one wash will only fit my cats, Nathan and Sally. It's the "pre-consumer recycled" confusing me.

Is that an oxymoron? I mean, consumers consume. And then after the consumption, there's recycling, so it can be consumed again. So if the consumers haven't yet consumed it, is it indeed recycled? Or just ... cycled?

I buy a bottle. So I'm consuming that Mountain Dew, and then recycling the bottle. I'm a consumer and then I recycle, so it's post-consumer recycling. If you just took those bottles before they were consumed, dumped out all the deliciously caffeinated Mountain Dew, and then turned them into recycled tee shirts, is that what pre-consumer recycled preshrunk 69% cotton/29% acrylic/2% other is? Brains can't handle this sort of thing. I'm looking it up.

What It Really Means: No surprise here. Cotton means ... cotton. Acrylic means acrylic, and other means good happy fun time stuff, like maybe more cotton or a hint of polyester. But not like hotdogs. Preshrunk means shrunk before, not after.

Now for the big one. "Pre-consumer recycled" is kind of like hotdogs. Except instead of meat leftovers, it would be tee shirt leftovers or leftovers from other clothes. All those leftover parts in factories are put together. Those pieces have never been out in the world to be consumed, so they're just hanging out, formerly doomed to the Dumpster out back.

Instead, the factory puts those all together so nothing is wasted, and makes these trimmings and leftover parts into fabulous recycled tee shirts. I had to dig around quite a bit to find this out, and even then I had to have someone here come over and interpret my findings (main source was Seventh Generation), and they used the hotdog analogy. That's when it really clicked in my brain.

Pre-consumer recycled preshrunk 69% cotton/29% acrylic/2% other is kind of like a hotdog, except it's a hotdog you wear and it doesn't taste delicious or contain lots of salt. Now you know. And now I want a hotdog.

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About Lynn Jusinski

After an internship at a home magazine where she wrote about media rooms and $500,000 pool renovations from the comfort of a teeny, cluttered dorm room, Lynn Jusinski graduated from a small college in Pennsylvania and then moved on to write for two weekly newspapers in suburban Philadelphia. A column she penned for the papers won an award from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. In 2007, Lynn moved back to the magazine world, and worked full-time as an associate editor for ADVANCE for Health Information Professionals. Her work on the magazine led to “Rookie of the Year” honors and a second place feature award in the annual Editorial Excellence Awards presented by Merion Publications Inc. In her free time, Lynn is typically stuck in traffic, shopping, reading, constructing poorly made crafts and hanging out in and around her hometown.
You can reach Lynn at

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    Occupation: Media, Marketing and Merchandising
    Setting: King of Prussia, PA
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