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Limitations of the waste hierarchy for achieving absolute reductions in material throughput

Van Ewijk, S; Stegemann, JA; (2014) Limitations of the waste hierarchy for achieving absolute reductions in material throughput. Journal of Cleaner Production , 132 pp. 122-128. 10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.11.051. Green open access

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Abstract

Dematerialization can serve as a measurable and straightforward strategy for sustainability and requires changes in management of material inputs and waste outputs of the economy. Currently, waste man- agement is strongly inspired by the waste hierarchy, an in fl uential philosophy in waste and resource management that prioritizes practices ranging from waste prevention to land fi ll. Despite the inclusion and prioritization of prevention in the hierarchy, the positive contribution of the application of the waste hierarchy to dematerializing the economy is not inevitable, nor has it been conclusively studied. In this paper, the waste hierarchy is analyzed on a conceptual level by studying its original aims, its potential to ful fi ll those aims, and its actual policy implementation. Issues with the hierarchy include limited spec- i fi cation and implementation of prevention, a lack of guidance for choosing amongst the levels of the hierarchy and the absence of a distinction between open-loop and closed-loop recycling. Also, the hi- erarchy only communicates relative priorities and therefore does not support decisions that affect other sectors as well as waste management. The article concludes that the waste hierarchy in its current form is an insuf fi cient foundation for waste and resource policy to achieve absolute reductions in material throughput. Suggested improvements are the adoption of a value-based conception of waste and related collection practices, more stringent and targeted policies on least desirable options like land fi ll, the speci fi cation of waste management targets based on dematerialization ambitions, and the use of the waste hierarchy within a resource productivity-oriented framework.

Type: Article
Title: Limitations of the waste hierarchy for achieving absolute reductions in material throughput
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.11.051
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.11.051
Language: English
Additional information: © 2014 Van Ewijk, S and Stegemann, J. A. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license.
Keywords: Waste hierarchy, Waste management, Dematerialization, Prevention, Absolute reductions
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science > Dept of Civil, Environ and Geomatic Eng
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1458535
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