Dear Umbra,

So I was sitting there at lunch, eating my crackers, when I spied a recycling symbol and was confused. What is “pre-consumer” content? I mean, if the label is true (“carton made from 100 percent recycled paperboard — minimum 35 percent post-consumer content”), what is the other 65 percent? And what is paperboard?

Laurel, Md.

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Dearest Kevin,

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Pre-consumer content is the stuff picked up from the cutting-room floor and recycled into new paper products. Paper that was wrinkled, or the odds and ends of a sheet after the pattern was cut out for the cereal box, or the fuzzy sides of a poured sheet, the “deckle” — anything left over after the first go-round.

The 35 percent post-consumer content is just what it says — 35 percent of the material that went into your paperboard had already been through consumer hands, while the other 65 percent consists of factory leftovers being given a new shot to make it out into the consumer world. The box-maker may rely on government contracts that mandate a specific percentage of recycled content.

Paperboard is paper more than 0.3 millimeters thick.

Now I have a question for you, fellow box-reader. What is a “macaroni product”?

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