Waste management today is a complex topic, and the operational practices of transporting and processing waste differ widely between cities, nations, and across continents.

However, efforts have been made to dissect the problem and build a framework that divides the broad types of waste management into a hierarchical system. This system endeavors to cover the entire lifecycle of a product and extract the maximum potential benefits from any waste.

As a result, types of waste management are usually split into three categories based upon the now famous “3Rs”—Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Unfortunately, however, this concept only targets best practice waste management systems by offering guidance on the ideal ways in which waste can be repurposed for minimal impact on the environment. In reality, there are waste materials that cannot be processed using this program, and for certain waste products, an impasse is all too often reached. With these issues in mind, the waste management hierarchy can be extended to include the following concepts.

Prevention

At the very top of the chain, the prevention of waste should be the priority for any business or individual. Whether food waste in the home or reducing wasteful packaging when dispatching customer orders, preventing potential waste materials should always be the first port of call. The scope of waste prevention methods applicable to any individual or business is extremely broad ranging, however, three steps in particular are highlighted:

Assess Needs

By carefully identifying your needs, it is easier to avoid overbuying and to cut down on excessive materials.

Minimize Impact

Sourcing products locally means less resources are required. Additionally, lower impact alternatives should be considered as well as biodegradable or ecologically friendly products

Order in Bulk

Ordering products in bulk ensures less packaging is required for any single product and fewer shipments are required

Reuse

If prevention is impossible, then the next step of the waste management hierarchy involves the reuse of both products and materials. The conservation and repair of complex products, such as electronic and mechanical devices, both at home and in the workplace, is a priority due to the large amounts of resources that go into the manufacture and disposal of these items.

However, reuse can be applied to almost any type of waste, from raw materials in manufacturing to clothes, furniture, or other products in the home.

Repair
Products

Repairing products and materials is one way to ensure they don’t end up in landfill.

Sell Unwanted
Items

The 2nd hand market is a great way to ensure your items go to a good home and don’t go to waste

Repurpose Raw Materials

Reuse raw materials where possible: from packaging to old clothes, raw materials almost always have a secondary purpose

Total MSW Recyling and Composting by Material, 2015 (91.16 million tons)

Recyling and Composting Tonnages: 1960 - 2015

Total MSW Combusted with Energy Recovery by Material, 2015 (33.57 million tons)

Combustion with Energy Recovery Tonnages: 1960 - 2015

Disposal

Finally, at the very bottom of the waste management hierarchy, traditional disposal methods at landfill sites are the least desirable outcome for any material or product. Apart from the increasingly large sections of land that these sites command and the risks of vermin and insects which may spread disease, landfills release huge amounts of toxic byproducts as trash decomposes. Leachates—toxic liquids that pass through these waste masses—and decomposition gasses, such as methane, are particularly harmful substances that have a direct effect on global warming.

U.S Methane Emmisions, by Source

Total MSW Landfill by Material, 2015 (137.7 million tons

Landfilling Tonnages: 1960 - 2015

Implementing the Correct Types of Waste Management

The waste management hierarchy is intended as a guideline to help both individuals and businesses better understand the waste management process, and in fact, only parts of this methodology will apply to the real-world practices of waste management for you. As a general rule, the higher up the pyramid you travel, the more control you are likely to have. For example, the prevention and reuse of potential waste materials is a simple and low-cost way to reduce your overall environmental impact. However, towards the bottom of the pyramid, it is more likely that local, national, and even international authorities will have the final say as to what happens to municipal waste.

Bisecting these two extremes, the recycling industry is something of an exception; requiring a collaboration between almost all influencers of the product’s lifecycle. Proper recycling begins with manufacturers designing and using packaging that is easily processed. After use, consumers must responsibly sort and dispose of materials and products in the correct way. For larger businesses and organizations, recycling responsibly requires more forethought, and the use of separate containers for specific materials, the correct labeling of recyclables, and detailed diversion metrics to ensure materials are delivered to the correct facilities are important. Finally, the efficient collection and distribution of recyclables are implemented by independent haulers or municipal waste management operations for delivery to recycling facilities.

Recycling holds vast potential for the reduction of waste and the minimization of our environmental impact. It does, however, require a rethink as to our current waste management habits—something which is slowly being recognized as a priority for nations across the globe.

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Included in Your Guide:

The Rise of Holistic Waste Management Practices

Prevention

Reuse

Recycling

Energy Recovery

Disposal

Implementing the Correct Types of Waste Management

Education and Awareness

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