Non-Hazardous Waste Management Hierarchy
Because no single waste management approach is suitable for managing all waste streams in all circumstances, EPA developed a hierarchy ranking the most environmentally sound strategies for municipal solid waste. The hierarchy places emphasis on reducing, reusing, and recycling the majority of wastes and demonstrates the key components of EPA's Sustainable Materials Management Program (SMM).
SMM is an effort to protect the environment and conserve resources for future generations through a systems approach that seeks to reduce materials use and their associated environmental impacts over their entire life cycles, starting with extraction of natural resources and product design and ending with decisions on recycling or final disposal.
Source Reduction and Reuse
Source reduction, also known as waste prevention, means reducing waste at the source. It can take many different forms, including reusing or donating items, buying in bulk, reducing packaging, redesigning products, and reducing toxicity. Source reduction also is important in manufacturing. Lightweighting of packaging, reuse, and remanufacturing are all becoming more popular business trends. Purchasing products that incorporate these features supports source reduction.
Source reduction can:
- Save natural resources;
- Conserve energy;
- Reduce pollution;
- Reduce the toxicity of our waste; and
- Save money for consumers and businesses alike.
Recycling is a series of activities that includes the collection of used, reused, or unused items that would otherwise be considered waste; sorting and processing the recyclable products into raw materials; and remanufacturing the recycled raw materials into new products. Consumers provide the last link in recycling by purchasing products made from recycled content. Recycling also can include composting of food scraps, yard trimmings, and other organic materials.
Recycling prevents the emission of many greenhouse gases and water pollutants, saves energy, supplies valuable raw materials to industry, creates jobs, stimulates the development of greener technologies, conserves resources for our children's future, and reduces the need for new landfills and combustors.
Energy recovery from waste is the conversion of non-recyclable waste materials into useable heat, electricity, or fuel through a variety of processes, including combustion, gasification, pyrolization, anaerobic digestion, and landfill gas (LFG) recovery. This process is often called waste-to-energy (WTE).
Treatment and Disposal
Landfills are the most common form of waste disposal and are an important component of an integrated waste management system. Landfills that accept municipal solid waste are primarily regulated by state, tribal, and local governments. EPA, however, has established national standards these landfills must meet in order to stay open. The federal landfill regulations have eliminated the open dumps of the past. Todays landfills must meet stringent design, operation, and closure requirements. Methane gas, a byproduct of decomposing waste, can be collected and used as fuel to generate electricity. After a landfill is capped, the land may be used for recreation sites such as parks, golf courses, and ski slopes.