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Waste hierarchy

The waste hierarchy applies as a priority order in waste prevention and management legislation and policy. It is the cornerstone of EU waste policies and legislation and is laid down in the EU waste framework directive (Directive 2008/98/EC). Its aim is twofold:

  • to minimise adverse impacts of the generation and management of waste; and
  • to improve resource efficiency.

The hierarchy is generally depicted in the form of an inverted pyramid with the most preferred options at the upper end and disposal at the bottom as the last-resort solution to managing waste.

  • Prevention. Measures, taken before a substance, material or product has become waste, that reduce
    • the quantity of waste, including through the reuse of products or the extension of the life span of products;
    • the adverse impacts of the generated waste on the environment and human health; or
    • the content of harmful substances in materials and products.
  • Preparing for reuse. Checking, cleaning or repairing recovery operations, by which products or components of products that have become waste are prepared so that they can be reused without any other preprocessing.
  • Recycling. Any recovery operation by which waste materials are reprocessed into products, materials or substances, whether for the original or other purposes. It includes the reprocessing of organic material (e.g. composting) but does not include energy recovery and reprocessing into materials that are to be used as fuels or for backfilling operations.
  • Other recovery (e.g. energy recovery). Any other operation the principal result of which is waste serving a useful purpose by replacing other materials which would otherwise have been used to fulfil a particular function, or waste being prepared to fulfil that function, in the plant or in the wider economy.
  • Disposal. Any operation which is not recovery, even where the operation has as a secondary consequence the reclamation of substances or energy (e.g. landfilling, incineration).