Author: Hanni Yang
Editors: Angela Pan and Shirley Chen
Artist: Carys Chan
Have you ever considered that waste could be ranked? Waste hierarchy is a ranking system for different waste management options that determines what is best for the environment. As waste production continues to rise, it contaminates the air, water, and soil, leading to higher death rates due to pollution. This results from the increasing number of factories and the corruption they produce.
The European Union’s Waste Framework Directive in 1975 brought up the waste hierarchy long ago. The waste hierarchy was created to promote people’s awareness of pollution and protecting the environment and human health. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has developed many stages to help people categorize their waste and see if they can reuse or recycle the items. The waste hierarchy replaces the traditional waste approach of “the three Rs” (reduce, reuse, and recycle), expanding it into a five-step process in which the most preferred actions are at the top of the inverted pyramid and the least preferred are at the bottom. The five priorities are reduce, reuse, recycle, recover, and dispose.
First and foremost, preventing and reducing waste production has always been a top priority in the waste hierarchy. Industries and communities should reduce their use of virgin raw materials to minimize environmental harm. Additionally, factories should stop the production of pollution that endangers human health. There are several ways to reduce waste, such as purchasing raw materials with fewer resources needed for refinement, avoiding disposable or single-use goods, and stocking recyclable, repairable, or reusable materials.
Following waste reduction, the next step in the waste hierarchy is reuse. In addition to reducing the impact on landfills, reusing waste allows businesses to avoid spending on new goods or virgin materials and reduces the cost of waste disposal. Reusing items like envelopes, boxes, and other packaging materials and using durable glasses, mugs, cups, plates, and cutlery can significantly reduce waste. Additionally, donating or selling used furniture, computers, and other office equipment can help conserve space and reduce the environmental impact of waste disposal.
Thirdly, recycling is the most common step that everyone should and must take. It is the third step in the waste management hierarchy due to the extra energy and resources required to create a new product. For instance, scrap paper can be recycled using water and electricity to transform it into pristine paper products. To maximize recycling opportunities, businesses need a recycling infrastructure, which can be an on-site recycling facility or a complete waste management provider that can handle separation, collection, and recycling.
The next step is recovery, which carries fundamental importance in the fight against climate change. Recovery, achieved through methods like incineration with energy recovery, refuse-derived fuel, anaerobic digestion, gasification, or pyrolysis, helps divert waste from landfills, saving land space and reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, recovery processes generate energy used to power the national grid.
Ultimately, the last stage of the waste management hierarchy is disposal. The waste that cannot be reused, recycled, or recovered for energy is landfilled or incinerated. However, this is an unsustainable method of waste management because waste in landfills can continue to have a damaging environmental impact. Modern landfills are carefully designed, located, operated, and monitored in compliance with state and federal regulations. Federal landfill regulations have eliminated past open dumps as disposal facilities because they did not meet federal and state standards.
Educating people, especially the younger generation, is essential to reducing harmful environmental chemicals. Waste can pollute in various ways, but the waste management hierarchy allows people to learn different ways to cope. The Environmental Protection Agency will continue to explore more ways to process materials that cannot be reduced, reused, and recycled to create more space for the environment.
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