What’s the waste hierarchy all about?

The Waste Hierarchy has been the foundation for the way waste should be treated for years. Set up through the European Union framework it provided a guide on our approach to managing waste. But under the revised Waste Framework Directive businesses now have  to demonstrate how they have considered the waste hierarchy when disposing of waste.

Under the hierarchy, which has waste reduction at the top, followed by re-use and recycling, businesses have to show that they’ve thought about whether they need to use materials or products in the first place. Asking the following questions can help – do I really need this product, will it last a long time and can it be easily repaired, can it be recycled once I’ve finished with it? Buying fewer materials, using them for longer and recycling at the end of their life will help save money and  improve the overall efficiency of your business.

The regulations require businesses to declare they have followed the waste hierarchy when choosing specific waste options on their waste transfer or hazardous waste consignment notes. They will need to demonstrate they have considered prevention or it could be re-used or recycled.

The Waste Hierarchy


Measuring the amount of waste that’s generated in your business will indicate areas where you can cut down or eliminate entirely, saving not just on disposal costs but also the purchase price in the first place.

A useful exercise is to calculate how much paper is used on a weekly basis in printers, photocopiers and fax machines. A simple review of the costs of paper and ink cartridges will demonstrate how much is used. Compare this to how much paper is left at the photocopier, put straight into the bin because a document was printed twice or only printed on one side. A quick calculation should show where you can make savings.

Items to consider when applying the waste hierarchy to your business

Stages Include
Prevention: Using less material in design and manufacture. Keeping products for longer; re-use. Using less hazardous materials
Preparing for re-use: Checking, cleaning, repairing, refurbishing, whole items or spare parts
Recycling: Turning waste into a new substance or product. Includes composting if it meets quality protocols
Other recovery: Includes anaerobic digestion, incineration with energy recovery, gasification and pyrolysis which produce energy (fuels, heat and power) and materials from waste; some backfilling
Disposal: Landfill and incineration without energy recovery

The phrase waste prevention will become increasingly familiar over the next few years. By the 12 December 2013 the Government is required to publish its National Waste Prevention Programme, covering details of a co-ordinated national approach to waste prevention, including specific targets and policies.

In the current climate costs are ever increasing while we have fewer pounds in the pocket. Rethinking the way we view our waste – regarding it as a resource – automatically implies it has some sort of value, either to you or to the person who can find another use for it. It’s time we started to think more along these lines, to ensure our finite resources go much further and to improve efficiencies across our businesses.


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