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Waste Management Hierarchy

The waste management hierarchy is a conceptual framework designed to guide and rank waste management decisions at both the individual and organisational level. It gives top priority to waste prevention, followed by re-use, recyling, recovery and and finally disposal.


The waste management hierarchy replaces the traditional waste management approach of the "3-Rs" (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), expanding it into a five-step process where the most preferred actions are at the top and the least preferred are at the bottom of the pyramid.



The waste management hierarchy places top priority on reducing or preventing as much waste generation as possible. This stage encourages industries, communities and governments to reduce their use of virgin raw materials to produce goods and services. The idea is to maximise efficiency and prevent the unnecessary consumption of resources through steps such as:

  • Procuring raw materials that come with the least packaging or require the fewest resources to refine.

  • Avoiding disposable or single-use goods.

  • Procuring materials that are recycled or can be recycled, repaired or reused.

  • Optimising inventory to prevent perishable goods (e.g., food) from going to waste.

If your business can’t reduce or prevent waste, you can prepare them for reuse.


Preparing materials for reuse in their original form is the second-best approach to waste management. Aside from reducing your landfill impact, reusing business waste also allows your business to avoid spending on new goods or virgin materials or paying a provider to dispose of your waste for you.


For example, office-based businesses can use these measures to prepare common items for reuse:

  • Refilling toner and printer cartridges instead of buying new ones.

  • Using durable glasses, mugs, cups, plates and cutlery instead of disposable alternatives.

  • Reusing envelopes, boxes and other packaging materials.

  • Donating or selling used furniture, computers and other office equipment.

You can even generate income from items and business waste that are valuable to other organisations. For example, scrap stores will purchase scrap metals, fabrics, plastics, paper and cardstock. 


Recycling involves processing materials that would otherwise be sent to landfills and turning them into new products. It’s the third step of the waste management hierarchy because of the extra energy and resources that go into creating a new product. For instance, scrap paper can be recycled, but the process requires water and electricity to transform it into pristine paper products.

To maximise recycling opportunities, your business will need to have the proper recycling infrastructure in place, which can be an on-site recycling facility (e.g., for grinding concrete into material for backfilling) or a Total Waste Management provider that can handle segregation, collection and recycling for you. 

Get in Touch with Black Ires to Schedule a FREE Consultation on Waste Management of Your Organisation’s Waste Streams.


When further recycling is not practical or possible, businesses can recover energy or materials from waste through processes such as:

  • Incineration

  • Anaerobic digestion

  • Gasification

  • Pyrolysis.

The recovered energy can be made available for the organisation’s use or fed back into the electricity grid.


When all else fails, materials that cannot be reused, recycled or recovered for energy will be landfilled and incinerated (without energy recovery). This is an unsustainable method of waste management because waste that sits in landfills can continue to have a damaging environmental impact.

For example, one tonne of landfilled food waste is estimated to produce 450kg of carbon emissions. Landfills can also leak chemicals and toxic liquids that can contaminate the soil and groundwater underneath. 

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