Every subject, whether in academics or a matter of civic planning like waste management, needs some guiding principles based on which the different countries develop their own methodologies of management. Waste management is also one such area which has some common underlying principles based on which the waste management for a country or region is decided upon.
The waste hierarchy is one such waste management concept. This hierarchy is based on the three or four Rs which signify reduce, reuse, recycle and more recently, the word recover which has been added to this waste management concept. The Rs are arranged in a hierarchical manner whereby the first step signifies reduce or waste minimization. This step talks about reducing the possibility of waste generation by looking at the different ways in which producers and consumers can reduce the possibility of generating wastes in their daily lives and daily operations.
The next step is the concept of reuse whereby products which, after having exhausted their primary means of purpose, a secondary purpose is found for continuing the use of items. For instance, empty cans or bottles can be found secondary uses around the house or even in offices; many local craftsmen are finding innovative ways to design and sell various household items in used containers and other products.
The third step talks about recycling. Communities are encouraged to segregate their wastes amongst bio degradable and recyclable. The latter type of wastes are then transported to recycling plants whereby the items are subjected to shredders and their base materials are taken out and sent to respective industries for reclaiming them into further use.
In Europe two more additional steps have been added to the waste hierarchy – recover and disposal. The steps indicate the more desirable action below and the more expensive and less desirable action on top. Disposal thus comes last on the hierarchy list since it shows depletion of the earth’s resources, possible means of contaminating the environment and loss of energy on the face of the earth. Again, proper disposal of wastes is the most expensive step for society while waste minimization, reduction and reuse are cheaper and less costlier methods than recycling, recovering and disposal.
In many countries the Polluter Pays Principle is adopted in many instances. Here, the government or private parties levy an additional cost or tax on people whose actions cause a polluting impact on the environment. Charges being levied on plastic bags in most countries and in many places, taxes being levied on the volume of wastes generated are some of the ways this principle is put into practice.