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Last edited 18 May 2021
Reduce, reuse, recycle
Reduce, reuse and recycle is a motto used by environmentalists to reduce waste, minimise consumption and ensure the best overall approach is adopted for the environment and human health. Such programmes when managed at national and/or local levels can save money, energy and natural resources.
Reduce, reuse and recycle are part of the ‘waste hierarchy’ guidance tool which ranks waste management options according to what is best for the environment and also considers resource and energy consumption. It aims to extract from products the maximum practical benefits and generate minimal waste. The priorities in the hierarchy are based on sustainability.
|The waste hierarchy pyramid.|
The waste management hierarchy features a distinct order of preference – usually represented by a pyramid diagram – which is designed to facilitate reduction and management of waste. The pyramidal structure emphasises options from those that are most favoured to those least favoured.
The origins of waste hierarchy guidance stretch back to 1975, when the European Union’s Waste Framework Directive introduced the concept into European waste policy. It emphasised waste minimisation, protection of the environment and human health.
In the first instance, reduction gives priority to preventing waste as a basic step. In other words, through judicious purchasing and use behaviours, the amount of waste can be reduced. Reduced waste means less material to process, ie prepare it for reuse, recycling, recovery and disposal.
Reduction/prevention may include;
- Using less material in design and manufacture.
- Consuming only what is needed, avoiding pointless purchases. Sharing rarely-used items.
- Keeping products for longer.
- Buying only products that can be reused.
- Hire or lease items.
- Buy products with no or minimal packaging.
- Regular maintenance can extend the lifecycle of a product hence lower the need for new material.
Reuse and preparing for reuse may involve:
- Checking cleaning, repairing, refurbishing, whether whole items or parts.
- Reusing items such as carrier bags, envelopes, newspaper, cardboard, bubble wrap, jars, pots, old clothes, packaging, tyres, used wood and building materials and so on.
- Buying a wide range of products from clothes to building materials at specialist recycling centres.
- Reusing containers.
- Maintaining and repairing products as far as possible, eg, clothes, tyres, bricks, roof slates
- Regular maintenance.
- Reusing surplus material from other organisations.
- Reduced waste sent to landfill.
- Conserves natural resources.
- Less pollution from lower levels of extraction and manufacturing activities.
- May create employment opportunities.
 Other recovery methods
The three steps above, once implemented, can lead to other recovery methods, such as anaerobic digestion, incineration with energy recovery, and finally disposal involving landfill and incineration without energy recovery.
The waste hierarchy as described above applies to most materials. However, the UK government concedes that for some materials, it may be better for the environment if they undergo waste management options that are not in keeping with the waste hierarchy order. These materials include:
- Food – research has shown that anaerobic digestion is environmentally better than composting and other recovery options;
- Garden waste and mixtures of food waste – dry anaerobic digestion followed by composting is environmentally better than composting alone,
- For lower grade wood, energy recovery options are more suitable than recycling. To determine the grade of wood handled, see Wood Recyclers Association grading structure for UK derived, non-virgin wood Applying the Waste Hierarchy: Evidence Summary, section 19.
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- RIBA Stirling Prize winners' open letter declaring climate and biodiversity emergency.
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