The Waste Hierarchy

Waste is traditionally the last consideration of any company because it has been seen as not contributing to their bottom line. If anything it was a nuisance that had to be dealt with but only when all other aspects of the business had been defined.

This is no longer the case. With costs associated with transport and tipping increasing rapidly it is no longer economical to simply dispose of waste. Managers are having to look more carefully at how they can re-use materials or simply create less waste in the first place.

The European Union has laid down a waste framework directive that was written into UK law as the The Waste (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 - The amendment added an article to the 2011 regulations stipulating that waste collection authorities are to separate waste paper, metal, plastic and glass upon collection.

The foundation of the regulations is a hierarchy of measures for dealing with waste products that gives a very clear priority to prevention first.

The “Waste Hierarchy” as laid out in Article 4 of the EU Waste Framework Directive details five steps, arranged in order of their effect on the environment.




Prevention

The most environmentally friendly and cost effective method for dealing with waste is to not create it in the first place. This might involve a review of which materials are being used and choosing something less hazardous, adjusting your design and manufacture to use less materials or to use them for longer, and re-using as many materials as possible.

Preparing for Re-Use

Sometimes materials or items are not suitable for re-use in their original form but can be modified or re-purposed. They might also be used again by simply cleaning or repairing them or used as spare parts. As part of step one you may have identified disposable materials that could be replaced with more durable ones. These can then be re-used within the process by cleaning, for example.

Recycling

When an item has reached the end of its useful life the materials it contains may be extracted and used to manufacture new products. These may be completely different from the original product.

Recycling helps to reduce the quantity of raw materials that are harvested from the Earth's natural resources in the making of new products. Recycling old products to turn them into new ones requires less energy than it would take to create a new product from the original raw materials.

Although there has been a great deal of focus on recycling in recent decades it is important to note that recycling does use more energy than re-use, which is why it is lower in the hierarchy.

Other Recovery

There are a number of different processes for recovering energy or component elements from waste materials with different degrees of impact on the environment.

They include anaerobic digestion (fermentation), pyrolysis and gasification. Probably the least friendly is incineration with energy recovery. This has the advantage of providing usable energy without resort to fossil fuels but the process itself still has a similar impact on the environment to burning coal or oil.

Disposal

The final two methods and the least desirable are incineration but without energy recovery and tipping to landfill.

Incineration has all the downsides of burning for energy but without actually producing anything.

Landfill has a number of disadvantages, not least the use of large areas of countryside with a subsequent loss of natural habitats, detrimental effect on air quality for surrounding populations and finally the ever-rising cost to actually tip at these sites.

The Waste Regulations (2012) also provide clear directions on moving waste materials from your site for re-use, recycling or disposal. Each movement of hazardous waste must be accompanied by a Hazardous Waste Consignment Note and records kept by all parties involved.

It is at the stage that you are considering recycling or disposal that most companies will rely on the assistance of a waste management company.

RJS Waste can help and advise you with all aspects of your waste management plan and provide solutions for complying with the waste hierarchy.

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