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Waste Hierarchy

"The waste hierarchy generally lays down a priority order of what constitutes the best overall environmental option in waste legislation and policy, while departing from such hierarchy may be necessary for specific waste streams when justified for reasons of, inter alia, technical feasibility, economic viability and environmental protection” (Directive 2008/98/EC). The proper application of the waste hierarchy has several benefits. It prevents emissions of greenhouse gases, reduces pollutants, saves energy, conserves resources, creates jobs and stimulates the development of green technologies.

The European Union’s Waste Framework Directive of 1975 (Directive 75/442/EEC) introduced for the first time the waste hierarchy concept into European waste policy. It emphasized the importance of waste minimization, the protection of the environment and human health as priorities. Following EU policy and legislation has aligned to the principles of the waste hierarchy. In 2008, the EU parliament introduced a new five-step waste hierarchy to its waste legislation Directive 2008/98/EC, which member states shall introduce in their national waste management laws.

The directive lays down a five-step hierarchy of waste management options which must be applied by Member States: waste prevention, as the preferred option, is followed by reuse, recycling, recovery including energy recovery and safe disposal, as a last resort. The legislation considers energy-efficient waste incineration a recovery operation, a provision that promotes resource efficiency, thus reducing the consumption of fossil fuels.


Figure 1: Five-step waste hierarchy in the EU Directive 2008/98/EC (adapted after Zunft and Fröhlig, 2009)



  • Zunft, J., Fröhlig, B.; 2009: Energy from Waste – Zukunftsmärkte Europa

Created by Prof. Dr.-Ing. Peter Quicker (Lehr- und Forschungsgebiet Technologie der Energierohstoffe an der RWTH Aachen), (), last modified by ()

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