EPA developed the non-hazardous materials and waste management hierarchy in recognition that no single waste management approach is suitable for managing all materials and waste streams in all circumstances.
The hierarchy ranks the various management strategies from most to least environmentally preferred. The hierarchy places emphasis on reducing, reusing, recycling and composting as key to sustainable materials management. These strategies reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
Source Reduction and Reuse
Source reduction, also known as waste prevention, means reducing waste at the source, and is the most environmentally preferred strategy. It can take many different forms, including reusing or donating items, buying in bulk, reducing packaging, redesigning products, and reducing toxicity. Source reduction also is important in manufacturing. Lightweighting of packaging, reuse, and remanufacturing are all becoming more popular business trends. Purchasing products that incorporate these features supports source reduction.
Source reduction can:
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change,
- Save natural resources,
- Conserve energy,
- Reduce pollution,
- Reduce the toxicity of our waste, and
- Save money for consumers and businesses alike.
Recycling and Composting
Recycling is a series of activities that includes collecting used, reused, or unused items that would otherwise be considered waste; sorting and processing the recyclable products into raw materials; and remanufacturing the recycled raw materials into new products. Consumers provide the last link in recycling by purchasing products made from recycled content. Recycling also can include composting of food scraps, yard trimmings, and other organic materials.
Benefits of recycling include:
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change;
- Preventing releases of air and water pollutants;
- Saving energy;
- Supplying valuable raw materials to industry;
- Creating jobs;
- Stimulating the development of greener technologies;
- Conserving resources for our children’s future; and
- Reducing the need for new landfills and combustors.