top of page

Waste management hierarchy

Waste management hierarchy is a tool used in the evaluation of processes that protect the environment alongside resource and energy consumption from most favorable to least favorable actions. The hierarchy establishes preferred program priorities based on sustainability.[1] To be sustainable, waste management cannot be solved only with technical end-of-pipe solutions and an integrated approach is necessary.


Waste management hierarchy indicates an order of preference for action to reduce and manage waste, and is usually presented diagrammatically in the form of a pyramid. The hierarchy captures the progression of a material or product through successive stages of waste management and represents the latter part of the life-cycle for each product.


All products and services have environmental impacts, from the extraction of raw materials for production to manufacture, distribution, use and disposal. Following the waste hierarchy will generally lead to the most resource-efficient and environmentally sound choice but in some cases refining decisions within the hierarchy or departing from it can lead to better environmental outcomes.


The aim of the waste hierarchy is to extract the maximum practical benefits from products and to generate the minimum amount of waste. The proper application of the waste hierarchy can have several benefits. It can help prevent emissions of greenhouse gases, reduce pollutants, save energy, conserve resources, create jobs and stimulate the development of green technologies.


waste management hierarchy presents a systematic order of managing waste according to what’s best for the environment. But how exactly does it work?


THE WASTE MANAGEMENT HIERARCHY EXPLAINED


The waste management hierarchy is a conceptual framework designed to guide and rank waste management decisions at both the individual and organizational level. It gives top priority to waste prevention, followed by re-use, recycling, recovery and finally disposal.


The hierarchy helps us rethink our relationship with waste based on five priorities ranked in terms of what’s best for the environment. This is often illustrated as a five-tier inverted pyramid.


WASTE HIERARCHY STEPS


Prevent – Top priority is placed on reducing or preventing waste. Can waste be avoided by not using the material in the first place?


Reduce – Can less materials be used in the design and manufacturing stage?


Reuse – Can materials be re-used in other areas of your production process, or by someone else?


Recycle – Can the materials be recycled, either in whole or in part to turn the waste into a new product


Recover – Where further recycling is not practical or possible, energy or materials could be recovered from waste through processes such as anaerobic digestion or incineration


Dispose – When all else fails, materials that cannot be reused, recycled or recovered for energy will be landfilled and incinerated (without energy recovery). This is an unsustainable method of waste management because waste that sits in landfills can continue to have a damaging environmental impact.


The waste management hierarchy replaces the traditional waste management approach of “the three Rs” (reduce, reuse and recycle), expanding it into a five-step process where the most preferred actions are at the top and the least preferred are at the bottom of the inverted pyramid.


UNDERSTANDING EACH STAGE OF THE WASTE MANAGEMENT HIERARCHY


By following the waste management hierarchy, organizations can extract the most benefits from their products and services while minimizing their waste output. But what does each stage of the hierarchy mean?


1. REDUCE


The waste management hierarchy places top priority on reducing or preventing as much waste generation as possible. This stage encourages industries, communities and governments to reduce their use of virgin raw materials to produce goods and services.


The idea is to maximize efficiency and prevent the unnecessary consumption of resources through steps such as:


Procuring raw materials that come with the least packaging or require the fewest resources to refine.


Avoiding disposable or single-use goods.


Procuring materials that are recycled or can be recycled, repaired or reused.


Optimizing inventory to prevent perishable goods


If your business can’t reduce or prevent waste, you can prepare them for reuse.


2. REUSE


Preparing materials for reuse in their original form is the second-best approach to waste management. Aside from reducing your landfill impact, reusing business waste also allows your business to avoid spending on new goods or virgin materials or paying a provider to dispose of your waste for you.


example, Refilling toner and printer cartridges instead of buying new ones.


Using durable glasses, mugs, cups, plates and cutlery instead of disposable alternatives.


Reusing envelopes, boxes and other packaging materials.


Donating or selling used furniture, computers and other office equipment.


You can even generate income from items and business waste that are valuable to other organizations. For example, scrap stores will purchase scrap metals, fabrics, plastics, paper and cardstock.


3. RECYCLING


Recycling involves processing materials that would otherwise be sent to landfills and turning them into new products. It’s the third step of the waste management hierarchy because of the extra energy and resources that go into creating a new product. For instance, scrap paper can be recycled, but the process requires water and electricity to transform it into pristine paper products.


4. RECOVERY


When further recycling is not practical or possible, businesses can recover energy or materials from waste through processes such as:


Incineration


Anaerobic digestion


Gasification


Pyrolysis.


The recovered energy can be made available for the organization’s use or fed back into the electricity grid.


5. DISPOSAL


When all else fails, materials that cannot be reused, recycled or recovered for energy will be landfilled and incinerated (without energy recovery). This is an unsustainable method of waste management because waste that sits in landfills can continue to have a damaging environmental impact.


It gives top priority to waste prevention, followed by re-use, recycling, recovery and finally disposal. The hierarchy helps us rethink our relationship with waste based on five priorities ranked in terms of what’s best for the environment.


“WASTE MANAGEMENT STARTS WITH YOU.” When you avoid making garbage in the first place, you don’t have to worry about disposing of waste or recycling it later. Changing your habits is the key…Think about ways you can reduce your waste when you shop, work and play. There’s a ton of ways for you to reduce waste, save yourself some time and money, and be good to the Earth at the same time.


bottom of page