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noun [uncountable]

buying particular products based on how recyclable or environmentally-friendly they are


verb [transitive]


noun [countable]

'Consumers who precycle aren't just content with throwing cans and bottles in the recycle bin and letting waste management sort it out. With increasing consumer interest in sustainable living, those engaged in precycling aim to avoid products that create more superfluous stuff … It is becoming a more popular viewpoint that recycling cans, bottles, paper and such is an antiquated misuse of energy, so precyclers remove themselves from junk mail lists, read paper-based media online and even carry around "precycling kits" consisting of cloth napkins and silverware – anything to reduce waste and not contribute to the recycling bin …'

Brandweek Magazine 12th August 2008

'Reduce, reuse, recycle' is the mantra of the noughties as we've finally woken up to the environmental consequences of our wasteful modern lives. Yet some would argue that we've quietly ignored reducing and reusing, and satisfied our environmental conscience with recycling. We buy whatever we fancy and contentedly fill dedicated containers with plastic bottles and packages galore, knowing that they will be collected and reprocessed for the common environmental good. But what if we could prevent waste before it happens? What if, rather than recycling, we concentrated our efforts on precycling?

if you precycle, you avoid products with excess or over-sized packaging, buy products that will last, and reuse previous purchases as much as possible

Recycling requires large amounts of energy to melt down or process discarded products or packaging and remanufacture them. It too, therefore, has some degree of environmental impact. The aim of precycling is to reduce this impact, not merely by purchasing products that are recyclable, but by cutting back on the demand for recycling in the first place.

Precycling is the simple principle of thinking more carefully about the products you buy, and the packaging they come in. If you precycle, you avoid products with excess or over-sized packaging, buy products that will last, and reuse previous purchases as much as possible. Many of us now reuse plastic bags or take canvas shopping bags to the supermarket. But precyclers think carefully about what goes into those bags, for example by choosing loose rather than pre-packaged fruit and veg, buying large containers of yoghurt and juice rather than individual servings, and only buying items they really need rather than those ubiquitous 'impulse' purchases.

If you're inspired by the concept of precycling, check out this website for some helpful hints. Note that precyclers often prefer to use electronic media for reading materials rather than throwaway print like newspapers and magazines – so there's still no excuse for not reading BuzzWord!

Background – precycling

Precycling is of course a clever blend of the prefix pre- (meaning 'before', e.g. pre-war, prearrange, precooked) and the word recycling. The term recycling dates back to around 1926. It was originally a technical term used in oil-refining and related industries. Its current sense relating to handling consumer waste dates from 1960. The related adjective recyclable was first recorded in 1971.

In the same subject domain, another recent coinage is the word e-waste (or electronic waste), which refers to the toxic waste generated by disposing of mobile phones, computers, TVs etc. Such products contain dangerous metals like lead, cadmium and mercury, which can contaminate air and water when they are dumped. According to the UN, the world is currently producing between 20 and 50 million tonnes of e-waste per year.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 1st October 2008.

Open Dictionary


a form of location that involves the underwater detonation of a bomb which causes sound waves that are picked up by ships

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