The great vanishing act

Waste prevention cannot be achieved through smoke and mirrors - it requires education, effort, and planning to succeed. With EU National Waste Prevention Programmes due by December 2013, Annie Reece learns more about the magic word.

As a United Kingdom, we’re getting good at recycling. But, according to the Local Government Association (LGA), the UK still dumps more household waste than any other European Union country and will reach the landfill limit in 2018 unless the amount of waste we produce is reduced. It is surprising then, that despite being at the very top of the waste hierarchy triangle, waste prevention and waste minimisation are not given as much time, consideration and financial support as recycling.

Waste prevention, as defined in the Waste Framework Directive (WFD), reduces: the quantity of waste, including through the reuse of products or the extension of the lifespan 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. It is perhaps the hardest waste activity to achieve, as it often requires a change in attitude and behaviour. Made up of three levels: strict avoidance; reduction at source; and reuse, waste prevention differs from other types of waste management in that it occurs before material ever becomes waste.

Despite not receiving much attention until recently, waste prevention has been part of the WFD since 1975. The directive has been updated several times since then, most recently in 2008 when the EC decided it needed to ‘clarify key concepts’ including how to ‘strengthen the measures that must be taken in regard to waste prevention’, and ensuring that the waste industry ‘takes into account the whole life-cycle of products and materials and not only the waste phase’.