The Waste Hierarchy: Prioritizing Ways to Handle Waste

Prevent all the waste you can, and throw away items as the last choice

We can reduce the impact that our waste makes on the planet by following the waste hierarchy. The waste hierarchy prioritizes how we should handle our waste – preventing and reducing waste is the best choice, and throwing things away is the worst environmental choice.

Although recycling items instead of throwing them away allows the material to be turned into something else, recycling everything isn’t the end goal for our waste. Reducing the amount of waste you produce overall – whether trash, recycling, or compost – will make the most impact for the planet.

You can reduce your waste by preventing it in the first place, by choosing long-lasting products or skipping a purchase altogether, and by extending the life of your possessions.

Choose Reusable Over Disposable

What you choose to buy directly influences the waste you produce. Many products designed for our convenience are disposed after a single use, but you can avoid much of that waste with a bit of preparation. Even if a single use package or product is recyclable, it’s better to avoid the single use item if possible. Instead of getting your coffee in a paper to-go cup, bring a durable mug to the coffee shop for our morning fix. Instead of buying single serving snack packs, get a larger box and pack crackers into reusable snack bags yourself. Instead of wiping up spills with a paper towel, keep a few microfiber cloths on hand.

It’s up to you to decide whether the convenience of single-use products is worth their impact on the planet. You might decide that some products are worth the waste they produce, while others are not.

Buy Reused to Save Energy, Water, and Natural Resources

When you buy used items, or others reuse items that you’re finished with, you avoid the need for a new item to be made. That saves the raw materials, energy and water that would have been used to manufacture it. Reusing an item saves about 20 times as much energy as recycling it, according to Waste Management.

When you’re finished with items that are still usable, like a working cell phone or TV, instead of recycling them, try to sell, donate, or gift them to neighbors using local sharing groups. The next time something breaks, see if you can repair it instead of replacing it. And consider buying reused items, like refurbished electronics, vintage furniture, consignment clothing, or thrifted serveware, to let these items get used longer.