The 5-Steps of Waste Management Hierarchy


Management hierarchy in recognition that no single waste management approach is suitable for managing all increasing populations per capita in major cities, limited space for landfills and rising costs of proper disposal services has led to an urgent need to tackle waste management and reduce our impact on the environment. Rapidly developing countries like Malaysia are facing numerous challenges in sustainably managing wastes.

How are these wastes being managed?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the non-hazardous materials and waste management hierarchy in recognition that no single waste management approach is suitable for managing all materials and waste streams in all circumstances.

According to the Malaysia Investment Development Agency (MIDA), the waste generated in Malaysia in 2005 was 19,000 tons per day at a recycling rate of 5%. The quantity rose to 38,000 tons per day in 2018, despite the increased recycling rate of 17.5%. This is alarming as the rate has exceeded the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) study’s proposed rate of 30,000 tons per day in the year 2020.3 Thus, the implementation of the 5-Steps of Waste Management is a must.

The waste management hierarchy is a simple ranking system used for the different waste management options according to which is the best for the environment. Presented in the form of an inverted pyramid diagram, the standard hierarchy of waste management involves five crucial steps; prevention, reuse, recycling, recovery and disposal. This hierarchy aims for waste generators to extract the maximum practical benefits from products and to generate the minimum amount of waste – emphasising on reducing, reusing, and recycling as key activities of sustainable materials management.

First off, let’s look into the disposal. In 2021, the most predominantly employed application in the country is disposal. Landfills are the most common method of waste disposaland are primarily regulated by state and federal regulations.Thus, there is an urgent need to shift to more integrated and sustainable waste management practices on all levels to prevent further environmental degradation.

With that, we move on to the next step – Recovery. Most commonly known as Energy Recovery. Energy recovery from waste is the conversion of non-recyclable waste materials into heat, electricity or fuel through a variety of processes, often referred to as waste-to-energy (WTE). This produces renewable energy sources such as biofuels which reduce carbon emissions in the long-run by replacing energy generated by fossil fuel sources. The beauty of this method is that it helps to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste.

Now let’s move on to recycling. Recycling is a series of activities that include collecting used, reused, or unused items that are considered waste and processing them into raw materials for new products. It’s the third step of the waste management hierarchy due to the extra energy and resources that go into producing a new product as the end product.

Besides recycling, there is another step which is much better, Re-use. This step is very precise and direct to understand from the word itself. Such step is the best approach to waste management by preparing materials to be re-used in their original form. Aside from creating new waste, reusing waste also benefits your business by spending more on resources and paying external sources to dispose of waste for you.

Last but not least from the hierarchy is prevention. It means reducing or totally prevent waste at the source and is the most environmentally preferred strategy. This includes reducing packaging, redesigning products and reducing toxicity, especially important in manufacturing. Use products made from environmentally friendly materials such as bamboo and organic cotton.

In order to ensure proper application of the waste hierarchy across industries, private companies and households, there must be a coherent strategy with effective horizontal cooperation locally and vertical cooperation between the local, regional, state councils and the national level. Effective implementation and success of waste management policies require financial investments, information and technical expertise.

Malaysia has taken a stepwise approach to privatise and centralise its solid waste management in recent years. The Malaysian Government continues to promote effective waste management by encouraging the reuse and reduce method. This contributes huge benefits to the global environment – from prevention of greenhouse gases emissions, reduced pollution, energy savings, conservation of natural resources to the creation of new jobs – which then stimulates the development of green technologies in the long-term.2


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