Waste Hierarchy

The Waste Hierarchy has for years been the foundation for the way waste should be treated. Set up through the European Union framework, it provided a guide on our approach to managing waste.


But under the revised Waste Framework Directive all businesses and public bodies have to demonstrate how they have considered the waste hierarchy when disposing of waste.

The hierarchy has 'waste reduction' at the top, followed by 're-use' and 'recycling', 'other recovery' and finally 'disposal' as the least preferred option. Identifying ways to reduce waste arising, offers the most wide reaching benefits in terms of resource efficiency, sustainability and cost savings. Equally, there is great potential in re-using and recycling materials. These can provide much-needed resources for our manufacturing sector and often use less energy and water, thus reducing the overall environmental impact.

A declaration is included on waste transfer or hazardous waste consignment notes to demonstrate the waste hierarchy has been followed when choosing specific waste options. This includes showing how 'waste prevention', 're-use' or 'recycling' was considered prior to final disposal.

Business as usual is no longer an option

The Challenges

With population increases and global development our natural resources are under serious threat as we seek to improve economies fit for everyone. We need to make the most of the resources and ensure their presence is extended for as long as possible. Current estimations have the world population rising to over 8 billion by 2030. This will put increasing strains on an already over-burdened infrastructure. With this growth, demand for energy and food is estimated to increase by 50%, while demand for water will increase by 30%.

Over the past year manufacturers have expressed concerns about the short fall in some materials required to make their products. Many see this as a major impediment to their business growth and natural disasters, such as earthquakes and extreme floods, have done little to help bring confidence to global economies.

We are in a time when we need to rethink the way we do things. Business as usual is no longer an option and it’s time for innovation and creative thinking to ensure we make the most of the resources that circulate in our economies.

  • Maximising
  • Global Resources
  • Helping to achieve this

That’s a snapshot of some of the pressures we’re facing today. But what do we need to consider to ensure we maximise resource efficiency and sustainable growth when implementing the waste hierarchy? We’ve come up with four factors we believe can help achieve this.

Strong policy framework...

We need proper definitions and standards that apply to everyone, ensuring a level playing field throughout the market. This will improve transparency and consistency within the recycling and resource management industry and help develop a stronger economic outlook. Clearer definitions should be considered when discussing recycling rates and collections rates. Two different things in our opinion that are often interchangeable to many others. Recycling is about re-using and re-purposing material over and over again. These definitions and standards need to apply in the domestic and European markets, to improve competition and ensure all can benefit from the same approach.

Promote link to economic growth...

The resource management industry has great potential to boost the economy, helping to reduce costs by improving the use of resources and creating job opportunities. With growth in the waste and recycling sector forecast at 3.1% for 2013, compared with a 0.6% general UK growth, this industry plays a vital role in providing employment and helping to revive the economy. A greater focus on improving quality can only add to boosting economic resilience.

Recognition from Government and political parties would enable greater confidence from investors or those wishing to do business with the sector. We need to deliver consistently high quality materials to suppliers and manufacturers on a regular basis. The focus should be on producing quality input to generate a quality output, requiring greater communications to those that dispose of materials in the first place.

Develop an informed debate...

Let’s talk to everyone in the supply chain so people consider the waste hierarchy in whatever they do. Making better use of our resources will require designers to understand what happens to the materials and products, and the impact they have, at all stages of their life, not just at the starting point. Greater understanding and integration at each stage will help drive this process. This won’t be easy and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has done much to raise the debate on the issue with its focus on the circular economy. But these discussions need to be undertaken across business sectors, whether large or small. The opportunity to learn from others experience and building up knowledge will all help the process. And it shouldn’t just be about words, we need to act upon our discussions and realise our aims.

Work closely with businesses...

Encouraging the business community to follow the hierarchy should generate additional materials into the resource stream as well as offer potential outlets for its use in manufacturing. The commercial and industrial waste stream is larger than the municipal one and has received less focus over the years.

There is an untapped potential, particularly among small businesses that en masse contribute a lot to the UK economy. In a time when people are facing ever increasing costs, this is a great opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of reducing waste, reuse and recycling. Following the principles of the Waste Hierarchy and integrating into business planning can help reduce bottom line costs as well as enhance a company’s reputation.

This White Paper discusses the importance of the Waste Hierarchy in maximising resource efficiency and sustainable growth.