What it means. Precycling represents the next generation in residential-waste management. It's no longer enough for you to recycle, separating cans and bottles for curbside collection and depositing unwanted electronics at manufacturer's consolidation centers: These days, the truly trash-conscious aim to minimize would-be waste from even entering the home. Hence the rise of the precycler, an environmentally minded relative of the EcoMom.
Why the buzz? Twenty years ago, there was just one curbside-recycling program in the United States, but by 2006, approximately 8,660 programs had sprouted up. The nation now recycles 32.5 percent of its waste, double the rate of 15 years ago, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Despite the gains, Americans generated 251 million tons of municipal solid waste (that's household trash) in 2006—almost 1,700 pounds for every person. In the European Union, the per capita amount is about 500 pounds less.
To slash the amount of waste you create and to reduce pressure on the nation's landfills, learn how to precycle with these simple lifestyle changes:
1. Buy in bulk. Cut down on packaging and use less gas on shopping trips by stocking up at warehouse clubs. Read our head-to-head comparison of Costco and Sam's Club.
2. Focus on concentrated products. This move cuts down on packaging and how much of a product you consume. In our latest test of laundry detergents, for example, many of the concentrated products cleaned just as well as conventional detergents.
3. Opt for recycled packaging. You can't avoid packaging altogether, but look for products that are made from recycled materials. Even some paint containers are fabricated from 100 percent recycled materials.
4. Dispose of disposables. Choose cloth napkins, towels, diapers, and the like to eliminate packaging and keep the resulting waste out of the landfill. And use washable dishware instead of plastic cutlery, cups, and plates. To conserve water, wash items in the dishwasher instead of by hand, and don't prerinse. (Read about the best dishwasher detergents.)
5. Bring your own bags. Forget the paper-vs.-plastic debate. Use your own reusable canvas or cloth bags when you shop.
6. Eliminate junk mail. Opt for paperless billing with your bank, utility companies, and the like. And put an end to all those unwanted catalogs by taking your name off mailing lists at the Direct Marketing Association Web site. Get more details by reading "How to Opt Out of Marketing Lists."
7. Screw in long-lasting bulbs. CFLs and LEDs are more efficient than incandescent lights, meaning fewer bulbs and less packaging.
8. Start a compost bin. This step falls under the "reuse" side of precycling. Tossing organic kitchen scraps and appropriate yard waste onto a compost heap turns them into nutrients for the garden. (Compost your leaves this fall.)
9. Conserve grass clippings. Instead of bagging clippings, use the mulching mode on your lawn mower to deposit them back into the lawn.—Daniel DiClerico
Essential information: Read our special report on energy savings in the October 2008 issue of Consumer Reports, including a list of 25 simple ways to save.