Post-Consumer Material

We’ve all read something that was so full of convoluted words and confusing sentence structures that we knew it had to be written by someone very smart; it was clearly over our heads.

What was REALLY happening is that we were victims of a writer using inflated language.

A reader should never be made to feel as though he is not intelligent enough to understand something; a writer should be able to write something in clear, easy-to-understand terminology. Writing is about communicating your thoughts, not about trying to prove how smart you are.

Some inflated language has started to spill into everyday life. I’ve already talked about how there are no used car salesmen left in the country (Pre-Owned Car Salesman), but there are myriad examples, which can be humorous when making something simple sound complicated.

Post-Consumer Material

I recently saw a paper bag from a fast-food restaurant that was made out of post-consumer material. Apparently, the word recycled is too simple and accurate for today’s French fry (can we say that now that Obama is president, or do we still call them Freedom fries?) connoisseurs.

This change wasn’t made for the consumer since I doubt that there is one person in this country who would not buy French fries because they were delivered in a recycled paper bag; it was done because someone, somewhere, decided that the more complicated phrase sounded more intelligent.

Remember, you will be taken more seriously as a writer and speaker if you speak directly and succinctly.


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3 Responses to Post-Consumer Material

  1. SteveU says:

    I agree with your main point here (don’t say something complex just for the sake of it), but your example is not illustrative of that point.

    There is actually a real reason for the use of the term “post consumer material” and distinguished from “recycled” material. About 20 years ago, when recycling starting catching on, it was considered good business to slap a recyling symbol on paper products to appeal to consumers’ desire to be environmentally responsible.

    Nearly all paper is made from wood pulp from disgarded industrial materials, so based on that practice, paper companies started labeling their product as made from recycled materials.

    The problem was that this was not saving material that otherwise would have gone to waste, as was implied by the recycling symbol, and was not what most consumers thought they were getting when they purchased “recycled” products.

    The term post-consumer material was used to denote products that had actually been used by consumers and disposed of. For instance, paper made from the paper that goes into business recyling bins would be made from post-consumer materials.

    As consumers became wise to the meaninglessness of the term recycled on paper products, paper producers that really were using disposed materials began labeling their products as post-consumer material to distinguish from the other “recycled” materials.

    Consumers who want products that are truly recycled, as most of us think of the term, should look at post-consumer content, and you should feel good knowing that the bag your fries came in was, indeed, minimizing the amount of waste in the world.

    Here is some more detailed information:

  2. Lindsey says:

    I am a self-professed grammar nerd (although by no means perfect) and just stumbled across your blog. I love it! I was a writing tutor for some time, and couldn’t agree more with your statement that “A reader should never be made to feel as though he is not intelligent enough to understand something; a writer should be able to write something in clear, easy-to-understand terminology.”

    Many of my undergrad students were bent on convincing their professors- and themselves- that they were smart by using high-flutent language that obscured what they were trying to say. With the grad students, I felt a little bad that I didn’t understand what they were writing, until I realized that the problem wasn’t my stupidity but their inability to write clearly and with concision.

    Yet I too am prone to this mistake. After all, who can resist trying out fun new words and phrases? Darn you,!

    Thanks for the reminder that writing is about communicating, not about proving intelligence.

    • languageandgrammar says:

      Thanks for the kind words–Sherry and I are glad that you found the blog.


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