Do you know the three Rs?
You probably learned them growing up, either through school, a parent, an ad, or maybe even that one Jack Johnson song. I’m not talking about reading, writing, and arithmetic. I’m talking about reduce, reuse, recycle.
Ever since the three Rs’ rise in popularity, recycling has gotten most of the attention. It makes sense: hearing that recycling can turn plastic bottles into clothes makes it sound like man-made magic. More recently, with new laws banning single-use plastic bags and straws, the second R, reuse, is also getting its fair share of attention.
But the first R, reduce, is often forgotten. Reducing is more holistic, and arguably more challenging than reusing and recycling. But recently, the first R is finally getting its time to shine with the rise of concepts like precycling.
What is Precycling?
Precycling has a lot in common with reducing. Precycling is the practice of preventing additional waste before it is created. It is, at its most basic level, reducing, but with a more technical eye than simply buying less than usual.
Precycling is about acknowledging the entire cycle of waste production. It is an acknowledgment that, even with the most stringent recycling and reduction, we still end up creating a ton of waste through normal day-to-day activities. Someone trying to precycle tries their best to incorporate all three Rs into their lifestyle, while also buying and consuming as many recycled and recyclable goods as possible.
What is the Difference Between Recycling and Precycling?
Rather than two opposing ideas, recycling and precycling are two sides of the same coin.
The practice of incorporating strategies such as reducing, reusing, recycling, purchasing recycled goods, avoiding extraneously packaged goods, and supporting sustainable brands by incorporating them into your daily life, with the goal of creating a more sustainable world.
3 Benefits of Precycling
Precycling can play a crucial role in creating a more sustainable world. Some of the many benefits of precycling include:
1. Preventing Future Waste
According to data collected by the EPA in 2018, the average person in the United States creates 4.9 pounds of waste every day. Of the estimated 292.4 million tons of generated solid municipal waste, about 146.1 million tons end up in landfills. For as amazing and effective as techniques like reusing, recycling, reclaiming, and composting are, they cannot solve all our waste problems. By precycling, we can help reduce the amount of waste going into landfills every year.
2. Preventing Future Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Creating products takes a lot of energy. Take plastic water bottles for example. While recyclable, the plastic used is primarily made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which requires fossil fuel, specifically oil, to produce. By reducing our reliance and consumption of such plastics, we are in effect reducing our usage of fossil fuels.
3. Preventing Over-Reliance on Recycling
Recycling is not free. In terms of waste reduction, it is actually more of a last resort, a costly process to be avoided if possible. Because of the machinery, labor, and storage space required for effective recycling, many countries, including the US, export the majority of their recycling. Hauling tons and tons of plastics around the globe creates massive emissions that would be circumvented through practices such as precycling.
How to Help the Environment by Precycling: 3 Strategies
Implementing precycling techniques into your own life is easy. Precycling is such a wide concept that there are little things you can start doing right now while you plan bigger changes for the future.
Eliminate Potential Waste through Reusables
Reusables, when used frequently, are much more environmentally friendly than their single-use counterparts. Try packing reusables in your car, bag, and backpack. Some easy-to-use zero waste reusables include bags, thermoses, silverware, and coffee containers. Other reusables that you might not have thought of include any electronic device you read with, which reduces energy used to make, and dispose of, things like newspapers and books.
Shop Brands that Use Minimal Packaging
If your local grocery store has a bulk section, consider bringing your own reusable grocery bag and filling it up! Be mindful of the goods you buy online, observing if their packaging includes easily avoidable single-use plastics or package cushioning.
Buy Used and Share with Friends
By buying, for example, a used laptop, you are eliminating the energy, materials, and costs associated with producing another brand new laptop. The same thing is true of borrowing and sharing things with your friends and family: the less new goods we need to produce, the better for the environment.
Precycling Ourselves Toward a Sustainable World
Precycling is a huge part of creating and maintaining a sustainable world for humanity. More than recycling and reusing, precycling cuts off waste and energy use before it happens, making it one of the most effective tools we have in the fight against climate change. With so many different ways to precycle, there is no excuse not to incorporate some form of precycling in your life.
Don’t be intimidated by trying to precycle perfectly. Any effort is better than none at all!
Download Our Free Guide to Sustainable Living.
From reducing waste to recycling and upcycling, our e-book shows simple ways to make choices you can feel good about.