Waste Management Hierarchy

The waste management hierarchy is a nationally and internationally accepted guide for prioritising waste management practices with the objective of achieving optimal environmental outcomes. It sets out the preferred order of waste management practices, from most to least preferred.

The waste management hierarchy is one of the guiding principles of the Zero Waste SA Act 2004, and is regarded in South Australia’s Waste Strategy 2015 – 2020 as a key element for guiding waste management practices in South Australia, while still recognising the need for flexibility based on local and regional economic, social and environmental conditions.

Waste Hierarchy

Higher Up the Hierarchy

The further activity moves up the waste management hierarchy, the more greenhouse gains there are to be made.

Reuse requires less energy than recycling, although designs which are both adaptable and durable are essential to its success. Other factors, such as the consumer desire for ‘newness’, can conspire against reuse. There are many ways that clothes, cars, books, buildings and other materials are currently reused, such as:

Reuse is already part of our society, so there is an existing precedent to build on.

Reduce requires less energy again, by designing out waste before it is created. Waste, in all its guises, is an indicator that systems and processes could be designed better. It makes no sense to pay both financial and energy/greenhouse costs for waste twice – first to create it, then to dispose of it.

Avoid is the ultimate zero waste challenge; the highest point on the hierarchy. The volume and rate at which resources are being channelled through the human economy needs to be slowed, along with a recognition that all our material goods have an energy 'price tag'.

To effectively address the zero waste and climate change agenda, there needs to be a move beyond recycling into the largely uncharted territory of the higher end of the hierarchy, to reuse, reduce and avoid, with a particular emphasis on eco-efficiency (the same or greater utility from less material input).