Waste Hierarchy: The Five Stages Of Waste Management

Waste Hierarchy: The Five Stages Of Waste Management

Waste Hierarchy

The Amended Waste Framework Directive (EU) 2018/851 put in place by the European Parliament establishes waste prevention and management legislation and policy. This directive includes the fiscal incentives for the application of the waste hierarchy. In this directive, ‘waste’ is defined as any substance or object which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard.

The waste hierarchy is a pivotal tool used in decision making. It ranks waste management options according to what has the best outcome for the environment. The five stages of the waste hierarchy are Prevention, Reuse, Recycle, Recovery and Disposal.  Prevention is the least harmful to the environment and disposal is the last resort with the most impact on the environment. Let’s take a  closer look at these five stages.

Waste hierarchy
Waste hierarchy. Diagram: Mildred Williams | Viable AlternativEnergy.
Prevention -waste hierarchy

Prevention (reduction)

STOP and THINK! What measures are in place to stop this item from becoming waste? Is the design and manufacturing of new material or product needed?

Overall, the option that has the least impact on the environment is no action at all, that is no manufacturing, no design, do nothing, however, is this is not always possible. Therefore, prevention also includes reduction. This first stage of waste hierarchy encompasses using less material. Additionally, it includes using less hazardous materials that could be harmful to humans or the environment. Thus streamlining the design and manufacturing process and preventing large surplus or scraps and as a result excess waste. Where possible, keeping products for longer is encouraged. This stage includes the promotion of research and development into a cleaner, less wasteful products and technologies.

Recommended articles:-

◊In the post, DFAB House, the use of digital tools for the design and planning stages reduces the number of materials needed when building this unique collaborative structure.

◊The San Pedro Laguna – Guatemala video discusses the outlawing of all plastic wastes in the Lake Atitlán community. This decision is valid, especially in places that do not have a sustainable infrastructure to manage large volumes of plastic waste.

◊The Bite video details a toothpaste pill made of natural ingredients, thus avoiding plastic packaging.

Re-use -waste hierarchy


Preparation for re-use encourages the checking, cleaning, repairing, refurbishing and where possible prolonging of whole items or spare parts. Re-use only includes products or components being used in the purpose for which they were conceived.  Re-use items are not waste. An example of re-use includes the re-treading of tyres.

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◊The Sugru Mouldable Glue is an ideal partner for the re-use stage. This mouldable glue has the potential to give a new life to items needing repair.

◊ The Share Shed is a community Library of Things where users borrow useful tools, household appliances, and sporting equipment.

Recycle -waste hierarchy


Recycling is the most popular of these stages. This involves the conversion of waste into their original use or new substances and  product. When considering food waste, anaerobic digestion and composting would sit at this stage.

Recommended articles:-

◊There are several examples of recycling to consider from Ljubljana, Slovenia, the city without an incinerator that has vastly improved its recycling capabilities. To Lagos, Nigeria, where Wecyclers gave a monetary value to recyclables items, creating a new exchange. They have a new project that pays children’s school fees via bags of plastic and metal recyclables.

◊Gumdrop turns Chewing Gum into a vast number of new things from mobile phone covers, stationery and wellington boots.

◊Recycle is also an ideal stage for the creative within.  The articles Sustainable Art and Tyre Sculptors explore the creativity in discarded items.



Whenever waste backfills or replaces another material, this is recovery. This includes energy generation such as gasification and pyrolysis. Acid or base regeneration and  reclaiming metals for re-use.

Recommended articles:-
◊Ordinarily, slag and fly ash from incineration are sent to landfill. At Amager Bakke (CopenHill  Waste-to-Energy) the metals and gravel from the slag are recovered respectively for recycling and construction purposes. They also sell the fly ash as a lime substitute.


At this point of the waste management cascade, most items should have found a suitable route via the four earlier stages. The disposal stage comprises anything that can not be recovered. This includes incineration (without energy recovery) and landfill.

Viable AlternativEnergy does not have any articles covering the disposal stage. Our goal is to highlight the four most effective routes, thus assisting to reduce and replace wastes that require disposal.

The diagram below shows an alternative view of the waste hierarchy.

Waste hierarchy. The 3 Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle). Source: Jmarchn, with collaboration of Núria Vidal Rodrigo  | CC BY-SA 3.0

Feature Image:

Waste hierarchy
Waste hierarchy. Diagram: Mildred Williams | Viable AlternativEnergy.


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