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What is the waste hierarchy?

Waste hierarchy showing waste management from most to least preferred
Image of the Waste Hierarchy

Many, like yourself, are becoming more aware of sustainability and how to minimise waste.

Which means you have probably heard or seen the term ‘waste hierarchy’ being used. Let’s learn a little bit more about this way of creating waste.  

What is the waste hierarchy? 

The waste hierarchy is a framework that can guide our daily decisions towards living a more sustainable life. It shows us the most to least preferred method when introducing new resources into our lives, so that we are conscious of the waste we generate and how we can manage it, but most importantly that we should try and avoid it. 

For example, when dealing with leftovers, the best option would be to avoid creating it. Otherwise, think of the most preferred option you have, whether it is to reuse the leftover food or to recover the leftover through composting, keeping in mind that disposing the food in the bin will contribute to emissions and is the least preferred option.  

Breaking down the waste hierarchy: 


At the top of the waste hierarchy is avoidance, which involves avoiding waste altogether. Before you get a new item, think about if you really need it. Have you double checked that you do not already have one at home? Is the one at home no longer usable? Are you really going to use this if you buy it? If it is for a one-time use, can you borrow or rent instead? 

Image of reusable bag, bottle, lunch box, cutleries and cup
Avoid waste by using reusable items such as shopping bags, lunch boxes, cutleries and cups


The next step is to reduce creating waste whenever possible. Think about if you really need an item and avoid over purchasing. This can be especially true with food, Australians waste around 7.6 million tonnes of food across the food supply chain every year. This equals about 312kg per person and can cost up to $2,500 per household per year. 

Person with a grocery list in their phone
Creating a shopping list can help with organising and planning meals, reducing food waste.


Rather than discarding products after a single use, consider ways to extend their lifespan. This could involve repurposing containers, donating clothing and household goods, or investing in durable goods that can be used repeatedly. Clothing and textiles are a great example of reuse. When you're in need of an item, check with your local op shop or find a clothes swap near you for pre-loved items. 

Girls at a clothing swap party
Look for clothing at thrift stores and swap meets instead of buying new


The next step is to repair items whenever possible when they're broken or damaged. Rather than discarding products after they are no longer perfect, consider ways to extend their lifespan through repair. This could involve mending clothing, fixing household appliances, or refurbishing furniture. You can also pick up quite handy skills from learning to repair, which could lead to an added income stream.  


Recycling involves transforming waste materials into new products, thereby conserving resources and reducing the need for virgin materials. Take the time to learn about recycling guidelines in your council and ensure that you are recycling responsibly. You can also support recycling initiatives in your community for items that are not recyclable through kerbside. For example, you can take your used paper cups (including coffee cups, ice cream cups and takeaway cups) to any of our Simply Cups locations so we can turn them into roads, lightweight concrete and construction materials. 


Recovery is the second last step in the waste hierarchy. For waste that we can't recycle, it may be possible to recover energy in the form of "waste to energy". Waste to energy is the process of incinerating non-recyclable waste to produce electricity. Alternatively, waste in landfill can produce methane. With the right technology, methane can be captured and used for energy.

Landfill waste
Methane produced in landfill can be captured and used for energy with the right energy.


As a last resort, waste that cannot be managed in any earlier steps should be disposed of responsibly. This is the least preferred choice. 

So, now what do we know about the waste hierarchy?

Embracing the waste hierarchy will not just help us manage our waste more effectively; it's about adopting a mindset of responsibility towards the planet. So, next time you or your family or friends are considering purchasing something, think about the waste hierarchy. Can it be avoided? Can you reuse something else? ...In no time, you’ll be more conscious of your footprint and reducing waste.  

Tree growing out of coins



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