The various waste management options can be placed in an order known as the Waste Management Hierarchy which reflects the relative sustainability of each. One of the key principles underlying waste management policy in the UK is to ensure that waste is dealt with as high up the Waste Management Hierarchy as possible. Since all waste disposal options have some impact on the environment, the only way to avoid impact is not to produce waste in the first place, and waste reduction is therefore at the top of the hierarchy. Re-use, followed by recovery techniques (recycling, composting and generating energy from waste) follow, while disposal to landfill or by incineration, the worst options, are at the bottom of the hierarchy.
Although the hierarchy holds true in general terms, there will be certain wastes for which the waste management options are limited or for which the ‘Best Practicable Environmental Option’ (i.e. the option causing least environmental impact) lies towards the bottom of the hierarchy. In deciding what is the most appropriate disposal route, both environmental and economic costs and benefits need to be considered. This decision should be reached taking into account all the costs and impacts associated with waste disposal, including those associated with the movement of waste.
Wherever possible the Proximity Principle should be applied. This recognises that transporting waste has environmental, social and economic costs so as a general rule, waste should be dealt with as near to the place of production as possible. This has the added benefit of raising awareness about waste and encouraging ownership of the problem at the local level.