European Waste Hierarchy

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The European waste hierarchy refers to the 5 steps included in the article 4 of the Waste Framework Directive:[1]

preventing and reducing waste generation.
Reuse and preparation for reuse
giving the products a second life before they become waste.
any recovery operation by which waste materials are reprocessed into products, materials or substances whether for the original or other purposes. It includes composting and it does not include incineration.
some waste incineration based on a political non-scientific formula[citation needed] that upgrades the less inefficient incinerators.
processes to dispose of waste be it landfilling, incineration, pyrolisis, gasification and other finalist solutions.

According to the Waste Framework Directive the European Waste Hierarchy is legally binding except in cases that may require specific waste streams to depart from the hierarchy. This should be justified on the basis of life-cycle thinking.


The waste hierarchy is a concept that has appeared in environmental literature and in some EU member-states environmental legislation but before the waste framework directive of 2008 was not part of the European legislation. The waste framework directive of 1975 had no reference to a waste hierarchy.[2]

In the first legislative proposals of 2006 the European Commission suggested a 3-step hierarchy composed of 1- Prevention and Reuse, 2- Recycling and Recovery (with incineration) and 3- Disposal. This was heavily criticised because it was putting recycling at the same level of incineration which was coherent with the traditional pro-incineration position from the European Commission. The pressure from NGOs and member states managed to turn the initial non-binding 3 step hierarchy into a quasi-binding 5 step hierarchy.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Directive [2008/98/EC] of the European Parliament and of the Council on waste.
  2. ^ (Directive 75/442/EEC)

External links[edit]