The "3Rs Hierarchy of Waste Management" encourages people to reduce, reuse and recycle before considering other options for solid waste management. Reduction is at the top of the hierarchy because reducing waste (not creating waste in the first place) is the most efficient way to handle waste.
A tonne of waste not produced saves resources, and also saves costs in end of life management. The savings in resources such as metals that do not need to be mined and smelted, and trees that do not need to be cut down to create paper, also result in considerable greenhouse gas reduction. A similar concept is being promoted very strongly in energy conservation (a "nega-watt" - the watt you do not produce - saves considerable resources), and in water conservation.
Individuals can considerably reduce waste production through a number of relatively simple behaviours.
* Buy products with small amounts of packaging.
* Use reusable packaging where possible - reusable mugs for coffee save on the production of disposable cups; reusable shopping bags reduce the production of plastic shopping bags.
* Buy second-hand goods where possible and support the reuse infrastructure.
* Only buy the amount of food that is needed. While this may seem like an obvious point, landfill studies have found considerable amounts of food waste thrown out by Canadians because the food was purchased on special and then not eaten - for instance, untouched pot roasts purchased on special but never cooked.
* Handle garden waste in backyard composters rather than putting it out for municipal collection.
* Plant a garden with "zero-scape" plants, which do not consume much water or produce garden waste.
* Leave grass clippings on the lawn (grass-cycling) rather than putting them out for collection and composting.
A number of municipalities across the globe (notably in Canada: Greater Vancouver, Halifax, Edmonton and numerous others) have adopted "zero waste" policies. These policies provide a direction that over time will reduce the amount of waste produced.
Green Procurement - Municipalities and governments have considerable purchasing power. Together, governments in Canada purchase at least $20 billion in goods and services each year. This purchasing power should be used to drive the market to produce more efficient products that will generate less waste at their end of life. For instance, the Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) - the standard procurement specification for computers - requires computers to be recyclable and looked after in a recycling program at their end of life. The computers need to be made of recycled materials, they need to be energy efficient to meet the standard and they need to be delivered in recyclable packaging. Adopting a specification such as EPEAT contributes to waste reduction.
Design for Environment - Manufacturers are encouraged to consider the environmental impacts of products throughout their lifecycle; one element of a DfE strategy is to reduce waste through efficient product design.
Extended Producer Responsibility - Manufacturers and brand owners are required to consider the end of life impacts of products they put on the market. This policy has been adopted by Canadian provinces and has led to programs to recycle printed paper and packaging, tires, electronics and household hazardous waste; waste reduction is an element of EPR programs.
Economic Incentives - Research has found that when householders are charged for each bag of garbage they dispose, the amount discarded is significantly reduced. People discard less and recycle more, and consider the waste management impacts when they purchase goods.
Procurement specifications are also very successful at reducing waste in the business sector. Companies such as Walmart score suppliers on how recyclable and energy efficient their packaging is. Companies such as General Motors required their suppliers to take back all packaging in which parts and supplies were delivered. This procurement specification fundamentally changed the packaging used for auto parts to a reusable format and has been adopted throughout the industry.
In the construction and demolition business, there are some spectacular examples of high levels of waste reduction through reuse of demolition waste in construction sites. When the Greater Toronto Airport Authority demolished the old Terminal 1, over 90% of the waste was reused as construction material in a nearby road construction project. This innovation was developed partly in response to a requirement in the demolition project specifications to meet high recycling targets.
Author MARIA KELLEHER
Links to Other Sites
The website for Kelleher Environmental, an environmental consulting company specializing in solid waste management, waste diversion, climate change, green energy, energy conservation, and related sustainability issues.
Recycling Council of Ontario
Learn about RCO's mission to educate the public about reducing waste and using resources more efficiently.
National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy
This website offers online copies of research studies and reports that concern sustainable strategies related to resource use, climate change, biodiversity, and more.
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