Waste managers can deviate from the waste hierarchy if there are good environmental grounds, according to fresh guidance published by the European Commission.
Guidance on the interpretation of key provisions of Directive 2008/98/EC on waste outlines how to relate the hierarchy to Life Cycle Thinking, a concept which looks at the broader environmental impact of waste management.
It states that the waste hierarchy can be deviated from if it would be more environmentally friendly to do so and that any deviation from the hierarchy must be justified on grounds of Life Cycle Thinking.
The guidance said: “Member States can only deviate from the waste hierarchy for specific waste streams and when this is justified by life-cycle thinking.
“It should be underlined that the Waste Framework Directive only promotes the use of LCT when departing from the waste hierarchy for specific waste streams.”
The hierarchy is part of the Waste Framework Directive, which requires member state waste authorities and business to prioritise methods of dealing with waste, ranging from prevention first, to preparation for reuse, recycling, other recovery and finally disposal.
The guidance explains that member states are responsible for creating laws to ensure adherence to the waste hierarchy, and includes definitions of waste, the handling of oil spills, and the concept of waste by-products.
It also explains conditions for End of Waste when materials become non-waste after going through recycling procedures.
How does life-cycle thinking relate to the waste hierarchy?
Life Cycle Thinking (LCT) is a conceptual approach that considers upstream and downstream benefits and trade-offs associated with goods and services.
LCT takes into account the entire life cycle, starting with the extraction of natural resources and including material processing, manufacturing, marketing, distribution, use, and the treatment of waste.
By introducing life-cycle thinking into waste policies, the WFD integrates waste policies, when departing from the waste hierarchy, into the broader framework of reducing environmental pressures and increasing resource efficiency.
Over their life-time, products (goods and services) can contribute to various environmental impacts.
The waste hierarchy has been drawn up taking life cycle approaches implicitly into account. Following the waste hierarchy should therefore lead to waste being dealt with in the most resource-efficient and environmentally sound way.
Member States can only deviate from the waste hierarchy for specific waste streams and when this is justified by life-cycle thinking.
It should be underlined that the Waste Framework Directive only promotes the use of LCT when departing from the waste hierarchy for specific waste streams.
When Member States take decisions in line with the waste hierarchy, this does not need to be justified by life-cycle thinking on the overall impacts of the generation and management of the waste concerned.