Our strategy has been influenced by the idea of sustainable development first described in the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit. The idea is that decision makers must strike a balance between continued economic development and the need to protect and enhance the environment.
Although it is the most sustainable form of waste management, waste minimisation is not an option which waste management authorities can easily implement in isolation from the rest of society. It involves every individual and every sector of society and every stage of
the life cycle of every product from extraction of raw materials, transportation, design, manufacturing, purchasing, packaging, consumption and on to its postconsumption
fate. In an ideal sustainable society, there would be no waste and no concept of waste.
Products discarded in one process would become the source of raw materials for another process. Waste minimisation requires a different concept of economic growth based
on reduced consumption and a re-use and recycle mentality. The benefits are the conservation of resources, a reduction in waste toxicity and a reduction
in pollution, including greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. A programme for zero waste in the UK is proposed by Murray (Murray 1999).
Waste management authorities can encourage waste minimisation by a variety of measures, including:
- Waste audits in the commercial sector.
- Education of householders.
- Financial incentives such as the Landfill Tax and payments by householders scaled to the amount of waste collected.
- Implementation of the Landfill Directive, 1999/31/EC, which will increase the cost of waste disposal to waste producers and provide an incentive for them to re-use, recycle and otherwise minimise waste arisings (DEFRA 2001).
- Reducing the size of bins provided to householders.
Re-use systems are being encouraged and are coming back into popularity. A number of initiatives are described in the Waste Strategy 2000 (DETR 2001) including bring-back schemes, refurbishment and reconditioning centres, and educational projects to encourage consumers to re-use products.
The advantages of re-use are:
- Energy and raw material savings, reducing need for manufacture of new products.
- These benefits are realised only if products are not discarded before the end of their useful life.
- Reduced waste disposal costs.
- Cost savings for consumers and businesses.
- New market opportunities and more jobs.
Recycling is the recovery of materials from products after they have been used by consumers. The benefits of recycling are:
- Conservation of resources.
- Energy savings.
- Supply of raw materials to industry.
- Reduction in emissions to air and water in the production process.
- Job creation.
- Development of greener technologies.
- Reduction in the need for new landfills and incinerators as there is less waste to dispose.
- The disadvantages are:
- Emissions from transport of material to be recycled.
- In some cases, more energy may be used for processing than for original manufacture.
- Dust, bio-aerosols, odours and vermin at processing sites.