In order to manage the waste we generate, we need to understand how the waste hierarchy works. The ‘waste hierarchy’ or waste minimization hierarchy as some people call it, will eventually lead us to achieving zero waste.
What is the waste hierarchy?
In simple terms it means steps we need to take to reduce waste……………….
Image source: pixabay
The waste hierarchy is a system of ranking waste management methods. It shows different steps that should be taken in order to manage the waste we generate, with the most favored option being at the top and the least favored option at the bottom.
The steps include Waste Prevention (avoiding waste as much as we can), Reduction, Reuse, Recycle, Recovery and Disposal (landfill). All these steps make up the ‘waste hierarchy’.
Have a look at my waste hierarchy diagram below and I’ll explain every step to you.
Waste management hierarchy steps
This is the stage we really want to be at in the waste hierarchy as it translates to little or no waste generated. Waste prevention simply means not producing waste at all!
Here’s a great example of preventing waste
A good example of preventing waste would be … taking your own reusable mug to the coffee shop and saying no to disposable cups.
Waste prevention also means taking steps to eliminate the creation of waste in the first place. An effective way of not creating waste in the first place for example is saying ‘no’ to plastic bags and taking your reusable bags when you go shopping.
Reusable bags have less impact on the environment and human health. This method generates no waste.
Reduce means minimizing the amount of waste you and I produce.
- Buy in bulk
Rather than purchasing individual little boxes buying items in bulk will help reduce your waste and also save you money!!!
- Receive mails and subscriptions electronically
Also, if you have subscribed to receive monthly magazines in the post simply cancel and opt for electronic version. This is a great way to reduce your waste.
Now in the first waste management hierarchy step, we tried to eliminate or minimize waste. When this is not possible, the next most beneficial option is to reuse.
Reuse simply means to use that product again and again; by so doing, nothing needs to go in the garbage!
Choose to Reuse….here’s why??
This step is very important on the waste hierarchy as it helps save money and it also eliminates the dependence on natural resources.
Examples writing on both sides of paper before placing it in the recycling bin, turning your cereal box into a scrap book cover and reusing glass jars.
Here is a simple scrap book I made
Choose to reuse glass jars
This is a very common term we all use and apply in our homes, at work and in our schools. After we must have tried to reuse as much as we can; it is logical to consider the next step on the waste hierarchy which is ‘’Recycle”.
What does ‘recycle’ mean?
Recycle means old products or used items we no longer need are processed completely into raw materials that are used to make new products.
For example the Jam jars, and pickle jars that we place in our recycling bins are picked up by the trucks and taken to the material recovery facility, where the recyclables are separated by material type. Glass is sent to the glass factory where the glass materials are sorted by colors and made into new glass. I posted a video on what happens at the material recovery facility in my previous post.
Recycling involves collection, sorting and converting the old item into a new product while reuse only requires little or no effort because we only need to use that same item again and again! There are also recycling centers that pay you for recycling certain items. Do a quick google search to see if a center around you offers this.
You can also do a search for ‘Recycling center near me’ or recycle center locations in order to locate anyone around you. Some centers will be happy to take you on a guided tour of their facility!
In a situation where prevention, minimization, reuse or recycling is not possible, the next step is to recover energy from that material.
What do we mean by recovery?
This is a process whereby waste material is converted into energy which is still beneficial to the community. I have heard people ask questions like “can technology reduce waste?” Yes indeed and a good way technology helps reduce waste is by recovering energy from the waste we produce. Energy recovery processes are safe and are usually done within regulatory limits.
This is the last step on the waste hierarchy and it should only be considered when all other steps have been exhausted.
Disposal as the name implies is when garbage is picked up from your curb and taken to a landfill, dumped and covered with soil. The covering is done in layers.
As seen from the waste hierarchy, we need to put in efforts in the top three steps – Prevention, Reduce, Reuse because the higher we are on the waste hierarchy, the better it is for the environment, ourselves and future generations.
That being said, focusing on prevention and reduction will drastically minimize the waste we produce!
In my next post, I am going to share with you ways you can reduce waste at school, work and at home.
The steps discussed above will definitely help reduce our waste in a sustainable manner and save us money too!
If there is something you’d like to add, or you just found this post interesting, please leave a comment. I would love to hear from you. Thanks.