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Waste Hierarchy

The “waste hierarchy” ranks waste management options according to what is best for the environment. It gives top priority to preventing waste in the first place. When waste is created, it gives priority to preparing it for re-use, then recycling, then recovery, and last of all disposal (e.g. landfill). The waste hierarchy is set out at Article 4 of the revised Waste Framework (Directive 2008/98/EC). The definitions of each of the stages can be found in Article 3 of the Directive. Non-exhaustive lists of disposal and recovery operations can be found in Annexes I and II of the Directive, respectively.


Prevention: Using less material in design and manufacture. Keeping products for longer; re use. Using less hazardous materials.

Preparing for re-use: Checking, cleaning, repairing, refurbishing, whole items or spare parts.

Recycling: Turning waste into a new substance or product. Includes composting if it meets quality protocols.

Other Recovery: Includes anaerobic digestion, incineration with energy recovery, gasification and pyrolysis which produce energy (fuels, heat and power) and materials from waste; some backfilling.

Disposal: Landfill and incineration without energy recovery.

'R' Code (Recovery)

Incineration - with energy recovery (R01) Use principally as a fuel or other means to generate energy.

This method of disposition is the most favourable form of incineration in so far as it is “R” coded. This means that it is classified as a recovery operation, though not recovery to final product, which means it is preferable to any disposal “D” coded operation. This type of incineration is know by many terms including Energy from Waste (EFW), Energy Recovery Facility (ERF), Thermal Recovery etc. Essentially, they all mean the same thing. The process receives waste with high calorific value and burns it to generate heat which in turn generates steam to power turbines that ultimately generate electricity. There is a residue from the process known as “bottom ash” which is normally landfilled. There are also non-burnable ferrous, metallic fractions left after combustions which are normally recycled.

Recycling Plastics (R03) Recycling/reclamation of organic substances which are not used as solvents (including composting and other biological transformation processes).

Many plastics can be recycled back into polymer groups to allow them to be used as part the plastic content in new products.

Recycling Metals (R04) 

Nearly all metals can be readily recycled. Some exceptions include Beryllium and other rarer metals that, due to their properties create hazards within the recycling loop. Beryllium, Cadmium and Mercury must be removed from metal recycling channels to ensure that they do not create hazardous contamination or emissions. These and other toxic metals can be recycled through properly controlled processes including precious metal recovery.

'D' Code (Disposal)

Incineration - without energy recovery (D10) Incineration on land

This disposition method is “D” coded as there is no energy recovery. This type of incineration falls into two broad categories. The first is Incineration of clinical or hazardous waste at high temperature, this is normally termed as HTI, High Temperature Incineration. Second is incineration of other waste. This is normally animal crematoria and small bespoke installations including munitions disposal etc. 

Landfill (D01) Deposit into or onto land

As the name suggests, Landfill is the deposit of waste into the land, normally at an excavated site but sometimes on land. Sites can be engineered to receive different waste types including, for sealed sites, hazardous waste. Landfill is one of the least desirable solutions for waste disposal. However, in some instances it is still the only environmentally compliant solution.

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