Precycling is a waste reduction strategy. It is a decision-making process that attempts to avoid the purchase of items that are packaged in materials that are hard to recycle or will be disposed of in a landfill. Start small and work your way up. By choosing one or two strategies to start, you can make a big difference and give yourself the opportunity to plan for other approaches. Once you train yourself to think about packaging while shopping it will become second nature. By utilizing the strategies below, you help indicate to manufacturers that these things are important to consumers and help to drive demand for low-waste alternatives to traditional packaging systems.
- Unpackaged- Choosing items that are unpackaged is a great solution to reducing waste. If you don’t have to figure out if/how something can be recycled, you are saving time and energy. For example, can you choose produce that is loose instead of on a foam tray wrapped in plastic? Don’t forget your reusable produce bags!
- Reusable- Can you choose an item that has packaging that can be reused? Can that packaging replace another product that you are buying? Some of my favorite packaging to reuse is sour cream containers, pickle jars, and the zip-top bags tortillas come in. I like to have sour cream and other similar containers on hand to package leftovers to send home with a loved one or to take food to a gathering and not have to worry about bringing a container home. Pickle jars can house everything from leftovers to fresh cut flowers. The bags tortillas come in can hold burritos, sandwiches, or a block of cheese. Before you toss something in the recycling bin or trash can, ask yourself if it can be used again or replace another product that you are buying.
- Easily Recycled- Another approach to precycling is thinking about if the packaging material is easily recycled. For example, when shopping I reach for materials packaged in aluminum or steel cans before a product that is packaged in a carton or plastic container because I know those materials are more readily recycled.
- Recycled Content- When purchasing a product, you can help support the recycling industry by checking the packaging to see if it says, “made from recycled content.” Bonus points, for the term “postconsumer.” Postconsumer means that the material is made from material that was placed in household recycling bins. Often a percentage of material will be listed. This means that some virgin and some recycled material was used in creating the packaging.
- Avoid Overpackaged Items- By avoiding products that are individually wrapped you can help to cut down on packaging waste. Buying in bulk is also a way to avoid overpackaged items. A great example of this is yogurt. By purchasing a large tub of yogurt and putting it into smaller reusable containers instead of buying small individual cups you can reduce your waste. Don’t want just one flavor? You can mix in jam, maple syrup, canned or fresh fruit for a variety of flavors (bonus- it’s usually healthier and contains less sugar too!).