How to Apply the Waste Management Hierarchy in 2021

No matter the sector you work in, your organisation will produce some waste, but how much you produce and how you can dispose of it effectively depends on your unique needs. For example, if you’re a large retailer, you may produce a large amount of cardboard, polystyrene and polythene that needs to be disposed of appropriately.

Not only that but organisations are also required by law to dispose of their waste responsibly. This is better for the environment and also has a variety of benefits for businesses too - like lower landfill costs. The Waste Hierarchy sets out a hierarchy of options for managing waste in a way that’s best for the environment. We’re taking a closer look at the hierarchy and how to apply it to your operations in 2021. 

What Is the Waste Hierarchy?

The Waste Hierarchy is divided into five sections, each with its own function and purpose. It gives priority to preventing waste in the first place and when waste is created, it prioritises it by preparing it for re-use, recycling, recovery and last of all, disposal.

greenbank waste management hierarchy

1. Prevention

Using less material in design and manufacture. Keeping products for longer. Using less hazardous materials.

Preventing waste may not always be possible, but by not creating it in the first place, costs of raw materials are reduced. 

2. Preparing for Re-use

Checking, cleaning, repairing, refurbishing whole items or spare parts. 

This reduces the extra costs of buying items in, as many can be re-used to reduce wastage. For example, packaging, like boxes, can be reused many times. 

3. Recycling

Turning waste into a new substance or product. Includes composting if it meets quality protocols.

Recycling is required by legislation to reduce the impact of waste on the environment. 

4. Other Recovery

Includes anaerobic digestion, incineration with energy recovery, gasification and pyrolysis which produce energy (fuels, heat and power) and materials from waste, as well as some backfilling.

5. Disposal

Waste at this stage will go to landfill. This is the last resort when all other hierarchy options have been considered and exhausted. 

Within this hierarchy, everything from food waste and garden waste to glass and metals is covered. For example, plastic film waste can be prevented by minimising the use of it. Some plastic bags and plastic film packaging can be re-used and high-value plastic film can be recycled into new packaging applications. 

Whereas food waste, on the other hand, can be prevented by being less wasteful and storing the food better, but it can’t be re-used. However, it can be recycled through the process of anaerobic digestion. This is a process where microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen.

What Are the Benefits of the Waste Hierarchy?

All businesses generate waste and creating waste costs money. But by finding pathways to reduce waste, your organisation could become more profitable. Implementing a waste management strategy will mean less waste in landfill and help the environment. It’ll also leave land that would have been used for landfill to be used for something else as well as reducing the production of powerful greenhouse gases such as methane. 

Society becomes more environmentally conscious every day with many consumers wanting to do business with organisations that take their environmental footprint into account. By going green and publicising the initiative through your communication channels, you’ll improve brand reputation among customers, suppliers and future employees.

Take Sainsbury’s, for example. They’ve pledged to halve their plastic packaging by 2025. Although this will be difficult, they’ve received praise for the scale of their ambition.  

Putting the Hierarchy Into Practice

The next step is applying the Waste Hierarchy to your processes. 

Firstly, ask yourself which type of waste your business creates and if you’re dealing with it in the best environmental way possible. Then ask yourself if your business could implement a strategy to send your waste somewhere where it can be repaired, refurbished or cleaned so it can eventually be reused.

Could your business recycle more waste materials by sorting through it better? And finally, could any food or garden waste be used for anaerobic digestion. If not, can it be composted?

Paper and Card

For example, if your organisation produces a lot of paper and card waste, simple changes can be made to prevent too much waste. This could mean investing in electronic communications solutions, opting out of paper-based mailings or working with packaging designers to reduce the use of paper and card wherever possible. 

Sometimes organisations can't become completely paperless. If this is the case, paper and card can be recycled through a closed loop to produce new paper products. 

Food Waste

Preventing food waste can be achieved through changing behaviours in the purchasing, storage and use of food. This could mean evaluating how much food waste you produce each week and if you need to reduce the amount you purchase from suppliers. 

Glass

Glass is a material that can be recycled an infinite number of times, reducing a significant amount of carbon and other energy-related emissions. Unlike other materials, glass waste can’t be prevented or reused, but it can be recycled in a closed loop through remelting it. 

Metals

Metals used for cans and other types of packaging are 100% recyclable - and they can be endlessly recycled. This can be done through closed loop recycling where it can be re-melted into new metal products. If it’s a piece of furniture, it can also be re-used through re-selling. 

If you’re ready to take to the step to reduce your impact on the environment while also making your organisation more profitable, we have a guide to make implementing your waste management strategy easy.

Discover the Benefits of a Waste Management Strategy

Waste management strategies are a crucial part of a business’ everyday working methodology. If you want your business to have a cost-effective waste management process, now’s the time to re-evaluate your strategy and ensure it’s properly suited to your business’ needs.

In our guide, we cover everything from best practices and waste audits to what you should be looking for when choosing waste machinery. Get started today and download our guide below. 

Waste Management Strategy Guide