Principles of Waste Management
The principles of waste management both here in the UK and around the world usually revolve around what is called the waste hierarchy of prevention, re-use, recycle and disposal:
Prevention: First of all, it is imperative that we all make sure that we produce less waste. For homes this could mean buying less products that have bulky packaging or choosing to reuse rather than buy new gadgets or clothes. For businesses it could be about having sustainable practices such as printing less and using digital solutions more.
Preparing for Re-Use: If we don’t want something anymore then it can be reused. For example, a phone can be refurbished and resold, books can be taken to the local charity shop, spare parts can be used to make other items work again. Clothes can be passed down and left-overs used to make extra meals. The more we look at our lives, the more opportunities can be found to re-use and re-purpose.
Recycle: If something can’t be re-used then it can be recycled. That goes for paper, bottles, plastic, even our food which can be recycled into something like compost and used on the garden or on a larger scale for agriculture. There are other ways to recover something from waste such as using it for the production of energy. Indeed, energy recovery from waste is one of the growth industries in the UK.
Disposal: Options such as landfill or incineration without any energy recovery involved are the last resort when it comes to waste disposal. We are trying to reduce the amount that we send to disposal, something is which is very important as a lot of what we produce is not biodegradable.
How to Reduce Waste
Most legislation and EU directives, as well as international initiatives are based on being able to use what we have and disposing of it in places like landfill as the very last option. The growth in technology in recent years is all about reducing this last point of the hierarchy and producing new products that have high recyclable or reusable value. So, for instance, there is a concerted effort by the UK government to reduce the amount of waste that goes to places like landfill or is incinerated and the growth of energy production industries is a part of this. We are also finding more and more ways to recover and recycle the stuff that we throw away which makes us more sustainable.
We are now beginning to move from simply composting the food that we produce and which councils collect to the use of technology such as anaerobic digestion. The future could see most of our food waste handled in this way, producing power for our homes but also producing fertilizer for local agriculture. Waste such as paper and card can be either recycled or reused in most circumstances. It can also be used in creating energy such as wood chip pellets for technology such as biomass heating.
This has big implications for businesses that have to apply the waste hierarchy in their everyday operations. That means reusing or repurposing waste where possible and making sure that recycled waste is sorted appropriately and finding a competent, licenced waste collector contracted to do that work. Businesses need to:
- Plan how they are going to use the waste hierarchy and implement its core ethos.
- Monitor their performance in doing this on a regular basis.
- Make effort to discover what waste they are producing and finding ways to produce less.
- Sorting waste so that contractors and others can help recover the value from it.
This doesn’t apply only to businesses, of course. All private homes should also seriously consider their own levels of waste management, even if only on a small scale.