Policy statement

Waste as a resource

In this policy statement we look at the concept of ‘Waste as a Resource’ (WaR), and its potential to combat both climate change and the continuing increase in waste arising in the UK.

The commonly accepted Waste Hierarchy is not working and is becoming a significant hindrance in achieving the UK government’s legally binding commitments for 2020 on emissions and energy. Unfortunately, the Hierarchy views waste as a problem rather than a resource and thus does not deliver the climate change mitigation it was designed to make.

The Waste Hierarchy was adopted in the 1990s by the UK government as a tool to assist decision-making in waste management, with a view to environmental responsibility and the combating of climate change through mitigation. However, use of the tool in practice has shown that it is inadequate and not fit for purpose. The problem with the Waste Hierarchy is:

• It has not encouraged the necessary levels of waste prevention; even household waste, the type at which the Hierarchy is principally targeted, has shown a trending increase since 2000

• Re-Use is not widely practised in the UK and is unlikely to increase in a developed society where it is cheaper to replace than to repair or renovate

• Recycling (and composting) has been the mistaken focus of UK government policy in recent years; recycling targets now appear politically motivated rather than to achieve climate change mitigation. Demand for recyclates is variable, leading to large stockpiles of unused recycled materials

• Energy recovery has been confused with incineration by both the government and NGOs; it has thus been seen as the least desirable solution on the basis of questionable science

The alternative approach is the concept of Waste as a Resource (WaR). Given its potential to combat both climate change and the continuing increase in waste arising in the UK, we urge the government to change its position and review the Waste Hierarchy in the context of a WaR approach.

Key recommendations

We urge the government, through Defra, to:

  1. Replace the Waste Hierarchy to ensure it actually delivers the nation’s needs: the prevention of waste at source, climate change mitigation and the recovery of energy and materials – valuable resources which will reduce imports and secure our future.
  2. Deal with all waste streams, not just household waste (currently only 11% of the UK’s total waste), and start developing effective strategies for commercial, industrial, construction, demolition and agricultural waste.
  3. Adopt a zero-to-landfill approach and publish independently audited, transparent data on the recovery and destination markets of materials and energy (heat, transport and electricity).


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