breaking down the waste hierarchy
This is a short article I wrote for publication in the Chartered Institute of Waste Management newsletter.
image adapted from: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/framework/index.htm
Increasing the use of recycled content in products is a vital strategy to achieve the Zero Waste targets as set out by the Welsh Government. As part of my PhD research with Orangebox, we have been looking at how businesses working in furniture design and manufacturing can do this. This research has highlighted that there is confusion across the industry regarding the differences between what it means to recycle, reuse, or treat waste through energy recovery. This misunderstanding is leading to a grouping of these categories into a single overarching ‘recyclable’ label that combines all three. More often than not, the evidence shows that reuse is better than recycling, is better than energy for waste, which is better than landfilling. Companies need to be more specific about how products and materials can be treated at the product’s End of Life.
The Waste Hierarchy, as set out in the revised EU Waste Framework Directive and legislated through The Waste (England and Wales) Regulations 2011, categorises waste according to a hierarchy of preferred means of End of Life treatment and disposal. While there are clear definitions of what waste is and how business and households should handle waste, there is limited guidance on how businesses label products and communicate appropriate End of Life treatments according to the Waste Hierarchy.
One recommendation could be that manufacturers’ environmental claims should provide an accurate breakdown of the type of End of Life treatment in a given product by percentage. To support businesses in doing this there needs to be clear guidelines on how such information should be presented. Currently, there is no overarching approach and even some conflicting advice. The most applicable recommendations are set out in the ISO 14021 standard on self-declared environmental claims, though this does not stipulate the breakdown of waste treatment approaches.
Clarifying this information is important for a number of reasons. It reflects an appreciation of Life Cycle thinking from the business side, supports understanding of how environmentally impactful disposing of the product will be, but also through deepening understanding of types of waste we move towards educating the client base.Tweet