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The waste hierarchy is a classification of waste management options in order of their environmental impact, such as: reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery. In the European Union Waste Framework Directive 2008 the waste hierarchy has five steps: prevention; preparing for re-use; recycling; other recovery, e.g. energy recovery; and disposal.
The waste hierarchy has taken many forms over the past decade,[when?] but the basic concept has remained the cornerstone of most waste minimisation strategies. The aim of the waste hierarchy is to extract the maximum practical benefits from products and to generate the minimum amount of waste.
Some waste management experts[who?] have recently[when?] incorporated an additional R: "Re-think", with the implied meaning that the present system may have fundamental flaws, and that a thoroughly effective system of waste management may need an entirely new way of looking at waste. Source reduction involves efforts to reduce hazardous waste and other materials by modifying industrial production. Source reduction methods involve changes in manufacturing technology, raw material inputs, and product formulation. At times, the term "pollution prevention" may refer to source reduction.
Another method of source reduction is to increase incentives for recycling. Many communities in the United States are implementing variable-rate pricing for waste disposal (also known as Pay As You Throw - PAYT) which has been effective in reducing the size of the municipal waste stream.
Source reduction is typically measured by efficiencies and cutbacks in waste. Toxics use reduction is a more controversial approach to source reduction that targets and measures reductions in the upstream use of toxic materials. Toxics use reduction emphasizes the more preventive aspects of source reduction but, due to its emphasis on toxic chemical inputs, has been opposed more vigorously by chemical manufacturers. Toxics use reduction programs have been set up by legislation in some states, e.g., Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Oregon.The 3 R 's represent the ' Waste Hierarchy ' which lists the best ways of managing waste from the most to the least desirable. Many of the things we currently throw away could be reused again with just a little thought and imagination.
How the hierarchy works
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The Rs are categories at the top of our disposal options. They include a variety of initiatives for disposing of discards. Generally, options lowest on the list are least desirable.
Reduce - to buy less and use less. Incorporates common sense ideas like turning off the lights, rain barrels, and taking shorter showers, but also plays a part in composting/grasscycling (transportation energy is reduced), low-flow toilets, and programmable thermostats. Includes the terms Re-think, Precycle, Carpool, Efficient, and Environmental Footprint.
Reuse - elements of the discarded item are used again. Initiatives include waste exchange, hand-me-downs, garage sales, quilting, travel mugs, and composting (nutrients). Includes the terms laundry, repair, regift, and upcycle.
Recycle - discards are separated into materials that may be incorporated into new products. This is different from Reuse in that energy is used to change the physical properties of the material. Initiatives include Composting, Beverage Container Deposits and buying products with a high content of post-consumer material. Within recycling there is distinction between two types:
- Upcycle- converting low-value materials into high-value products (more desirable)
- Downcycle - converting valuable products into low-value raw materials (less desirable)
The Rest of the Hierarchy
The Rs are not the only disposal options:
Generate - capturing useful material for waste to energy programs. Includes Methane Collection, Gasification, and Digestion, and the term Recover.
Incinerate - high temperature destruction of material. Differs from Gasification in that oxygen is used; differs from burning in that high temperatures consume material efficiently and emissions are controlled.
Devastate - to discard into the natural environment, or to "trash" the planet. Includes Litter, Landfill, Burn Barrels, Unnecessary Vehicle Idling, and Dumping discards onto land or into water.
- Directive 2008/98/EC on waste (Waste Framework Directive)
- Mark Ruzzin. "Pay-As-You-Throw - Let's Start". Retrieved 2006-11-26.
- Letsrecycle, Letsrecycle.com article on European Debate on Waste Hierarchy
- Getting to Zero Waste
- Recovered Resource Blog
- Action RE-buts in Québec