Waste minimization is a process of elimination that involves reducing the amount of waste produced in society and helps eliminate the generation of harmful and persistent wastes, supporting the efforts to promote a more sustainable society. Waste minimisation involves redesigning products and/or changing societal patterns, concerning consumption and production, of waste generation, to prevent the creation of waste.
The most environmentally resourceful, economically efficient, and cost effective way to manage waste is to not have to address the problem in the first place. Waste minimisation should be seen as a primary focus for most waste management strategies. Proper waste management can require a significant amount of time and resources; therefore, it is important to understand the benefits of waste minimisation and how it can be implemented in all sectors of the economy, in an effective, safe and sustainable manner.
The basic concept behind waste management is the waste hierarchy, where the most effective approaches to managing waste are at the top. Waste management is in contrast to waste minimisation. Waste management focuses on processing waste after it is created, concentrating on re-use, recycling, and waste-to-energy conversion rather than eliminating the creation of waste in the initial phases of production. Waste minimisation involves efforts to minimize resource and energy use during manufacture. For the same commercial output, usually the less materials are used, the less waste is produced. Waste minimisation usually requires knowledge of the production process, cradle-to-grave analysis (the tracking of materials from their extraction to their return to earth) and detailed knowledge of the composition of the waste.
The main sources of waste vary from country to country. In the UK, most waste comes from the construction and demolition of buildings, followed by mining and quarrying, industry and commerce. Household waste constitutes a relatively small proportion of all waste. Reasons for the creation of waste sometimes include requirements in the supply chain. For example, a company handling a product may insist that it should be packaged using particular packing because it fits its packaging equipment.
Waste minimisation can protect the environment and provide good economic and business practices. Waste minimisation can improve:
- Efficient production practices. Waste minimisation can achieve more output of product per unit of input of raw materials.
- Economic returns. More efficient use of products means reduced costs of purchasing new materials improving the financial performance of a company.
- Public image. The environmental profile of a company is an important part of its overall reputation and waste minimisation reflects a proactive movement towards environmental protection.
- Quality of products produced. New innovation and technological practices can reduce waste generation and improve the quality of the inputs in the production phase.
- Environmental responsibility. Minimising or eliminating waste generation makes it easier to meet targets of environmental regulations, policies, and standards. The environmental impact of waste will be reduced.
In industries, using more efficient manufacturing processes and better materials will generally reduce the production of waste. The application of waste minimisation techniques has led to the development of innovative and commercially successful replacement products. Waste minimisation has proven benefits to industry and the wider environment. It helps in value creation and increase quality of work.
Waste minimisation often requires investment, which is usually compensated by the savings. However, waste reduction in one part of the production process may create waste production in another part.
There are government incentives for waste minimisation, which focus on the environmental benefits of adopting waste minimisation strategies. In the UK, several pilot schemes such as The Catalyst Project and the Dee Waste Minimisation Project, have shown the efficacy of such policies. Fourteen companies in Merseyside took part in the Catalyst Project; the project generated overall savings of £9 million and landfill waste was reduced by 12,000 tonnes per year.
- Resource optimization
- Minimising the amount of waste produced by organisations or individuals goes hand-in-hand with optimizing their use of raw materials. For example, a dressmaker may arrange pattern pieces on a length of fabric in a particular way to enable the garment to be cut out from the smallest area of fabric.
- Reuse of scrap material
- Scraps can be immediately re-incorporated at the beginning of the manufacturing line so that they do not become a waste product. Many industries routinely do this; for example, paper mills return any damaged rolls to the beginning of the production line, and in the manufacture of plastic items, off-cuts and scrap are re-incorporated into new products.
- Improved quality control and process monitoring
- Steps can be taken to ensure that the number of reject batches is kept to a minimum. This is achieved by increasing the frequency of inspection and the number of points of inspection. For example, installing automated continuous monitoring equipment can help to identify production problems at an early stage.
- Waste exchanges
- This is where the waste product of one process becomes the raw material for a second process. Waste exchanges represent another way of reducing waste disposal volumes for waste that cannot be eliminated.
- Ship to point of use
- This involves making deliveries of incoming raw materials or components direct to the point where they are assembled or used in the manufacturing process to minimise handling and the use of protective wrappings or enclosures.
- This is a whole systems approach that aims to eliminate waste at the source and at all points down the supply chain, with the intention of producing no waste. It is a design philosophy which emphasizes waste prevention as opposed to end of pipe waste management.
Waste minimisation and resource maximisation for manufactured products can most easily be done at the design stage. Reducing the number of components used in a product or making the product easier to take apart can make it easier to be repaired or recycled at the end of its useful life.
In some cases, it may be best not to minimise the volume of raw materials used to make a product, but instead reduce the volume or toxicity of the waste created at the end of a product's life, or the environmental impact of the product's use. (See section Durability).
Fitting the intended use
In this strategy, products and packages are optimally designed to meet their intended use. This applies especially to packaging materials, which should only be as durable as necessary to serve their intended purpose. On the other hand, it could be more wasteful if food, which has consumed resources and energy in its production, is damaged and spoiled because of extreme measures to reduce the use of paper, metals, glass and plastics in its packaging.
But in some cases it has a negative environmental impact. If a product is too durable, its replacement with more efficient technology is likely to be delayed. For example, a washing machine produced 10 years ago may use twice as much water, detergent and energy as one produced today. Therefore, extending an older machine's useful life may place a heavier burden on the environment than scrapping it, recycling its metal and buying a new model. Similarly, older vehicles consume more fuel and produce more emissions than their modern counterparts.
Most proponents of waste minimisation consider that the way forward may be to view any manufactured product at the end of its useful life as a resource for recycling and reuse rather than waste. Recycling a product is easier if it is constructed of fewer materials. Car manufacturers have recently reduced the number of plastics used in their cars from twenty or more to three or four, hence simplifying the recovery of plastics from scrapped cars. However, exceptions (like having a combination of paper and plastic or plastic coating on glass) do exist, and might enable a product to fulfill its role with the minimum of resources.
Making refillable glass bottles strong enough to withstand several journeys between the consumer and the bottling plant requires making them thicker and so heavier, which increases the resources required to transport them. Since transport has a large environmental impact, careful evaluation is required of the number of return journeys bottles make. If a refillable bottle is thrown away after being refilled only several times, the resources wasted may be greater than if the bottle had been designed for a single journey..
Many choices involve trade-offs of environmental impact, and often there is insufficient information to make informed decisions.
This section details some waste minimisation techniques for householders.
Appropriate amounts and sizes can be chosen when purchasing goods; buying large containers of paint for a small decorating job or buying larger amounts of food than can be consumed create unnecessary waste. Also, if a pack or can is to be thrown away, any remaining contents must be removed before the container can be recycled.
Home composting, the practice of turning kitchen and garden waste into compost can be considered waste minimisation.
The resources that households use can be reduced considerably by using electricity thoughtfully (e.g. turning off lights and equipment when it is not needed) and by reducing the number of car journeys made. Individuals can reduce the amount of waste they create by buying fewer products and by buying products which last longer. Mending broken or worn items of clothing or equipment also contributes to minimising household waste. Individuals can minimise their water usage, and walk or cycle to their destination rather than using their car to save fuel and cut down emissions.
In a domestic situation, the potential for minimisation is often dictated by lifestyle. Some people may view it as wasteful to purchase new products solely to follow fashion trends when the older products are still usable. Adults working full-time have little free time, and so may have to purchase more convenient foods that require little preparation, or prefer disposable nappies if there is a baby in the family.
The amount of waste an individual produces is a small portion of all waste produced by society, and personal waste reduction can only make a small impact on overall waste volumes. Yet, influence on policy can be exerted in other areas. Increased consumer awareness of the impact and power of certain purchasing decisions allows industry and individuals to change the total resource consumption. Consumers can influence manufacturers and distributors by avoiding buying products that do not have eco-labelling, which is currently not mandatory, or choosing products that minimise the use of packaging. In the UK, PullApart combines both environmental and consumer packaging surveys, in a curbside packaging recycling classification system to waste minimise. Where reuse schemes are available, consumers can be proactive and use them.
Health-care establishments are massive producers of waste. The major sources of health-care waste are: hospitals, laboratories and research centres, mortuary and autopsy centres, animal research and testing laboratories, blood banks and collection services, and nursing homes for the elderly.
Waste minimisation can offer many opportunities to these establishments to use fewer resources, be less wasteful and generate less hazardous waste. Good management and control practices among health-care facilities can have a significant effect on the reduction of waste generated each day.
There are many examples of more efficient practices that can encourage waste minimization in healthcare establishments and research facilities
- Purchasing reductions which ensures the selection of supplies that are less wasteful or less hazardous.
- The use of physical rather than chemical cleaning methods such as steam disinfection instead of chemical disinfection.
- Preventing the unnecessary wastage of products in nursing and cleaning activities.
Management and control measures at hospital level
- Centralized purchasing of hazardous chemicals.
- Monitoring the flow of chemicals within the health care facility from receipt as a raw material to disposal as a hazardous waste.
- The careful separation of waste matter to help minimize the quantities of hazardous waste and disposal.
Stock management of chemical and pharmaceutical products
- Frequent ordering of relatively small quantities rather than large quantities at one time.
- Using the oldest batch of a product ﬁrst to avoid expiration dates and unnecessary waste.
- Using all the contents of a container containing hazardous waste.
- Checking the expiry date of all products at the time of delivery.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency (2012). "Waste-Hazardous Waste-Waste Minimisation". Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/waste/hazard/wastemin/index.htm.
- Davidson, G. (2011). "Waste Management Practices: Literature Review.". Retrieved from http://www.dal.ca/content/dam/dalhousie/pdf/sustainability/Waste%20Management%20Literature%20Review%20Final%20June%202011%20(1.49%20MB).pdf.
- ROYAL COMMISSION ON ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION: Urban Environment 2007
- Dickinson, J. & Snow, W.K. (2001). "The end of waste: Zero Waste by 2020." (PDF).
- Removing food remains to reduce waste
- WHO (2011). "Waste from Health Care facilities Fact Sheet No 253".
- WHO (2014). "Waste minimization, recycling and reuse." (PDF).
- The Green Organisation's website, homepage.
- The EU Pre-waste project website, homepage.
- 11 Common Waste Reduction Tips