The understanding of the concept of prevention with regard to waste and resources is slowly growing. The focus is moving from waste and what we can do with it towards it idea of resource efficiency.
The concept of ‘wastage’ was introduced at an early stage – meaning, broadly, wasteful industrial production and consumption of goods and services, including transport and tourism. Consumption is increasing and to tackle the root cause and environmental impact of this trend, it is necessary to consider production practices, the use of resources, sustainable consumption and waste generation together.
The following definition of waste prevention is based on one originally proposed in a CTC report (link to this report in EPA site) prepared in 2003:
“Prevention is the elimination or reduction at source of material, water and energy consumption, waste arisings (solid, liquid, gaseous and heat) and harmful substances.”
Thus any action that, for example, reduces the use of material resources, increases the efficiency of production processes, decreases water and energy consumption, or causes a reduction in the gross generation of waste (disposal plus recycling) can be classified as waste prevention. Such actions and activities would be considered to be within the scope of the National Waste Prevention Programme in terms of eligibility for support, advice, funding and targeting of initiatives.
The revised Waste Framework Directive (link to EU site), on which political agreement has been reached, proposes a new definition of prevention:
“Prevention” means measures taken before a substance, material or product has become waste, that reduce:
- the quantity of waste, including through the re-use of products or the extension of life span of products;
- the adverse impacts of the generated waste on the environment and human health; or
- the content of harmful substances in materials and products;
These definitions will be adopted to frame the National Waste Prevention Programme and the Local Authority Prevention Network. The waste hierarchy diagram in Figure 1 [Dermot, do you have a better version?], proposed in this format in 2003, provides a useful illustration of what is, and what isn’t, waste prevention.
Figure 2 [Dermot do you have a better version?] elaborates on this by showing that intervention must be made before waste is generated, not after.