The waste hierarchy is a concept of best practice for sustainable waste management. The hierarchy depicts actions from most to least favourable in terms of resource use, energy consumption and environmental protection.

The term was first used in academic environmental literature, but now appears in regulatory policy dialogue – particularly in Europe. The priority is to prevent waste occurring in the first place. If waste is unavoidable, the second priority is preparing it for re-use, then recycling, recovery and lastly landfill disposal.

The hierarchy aims to extract maximum benefits from a given product, whilst reducing waste. When applied, the hierarchy will contribute toward minimising emissions, pollutant reduction, energy efficiencies, and more.

The waste hierarchy in the UK

Article 4 of the revised EU Waste Framework Directive (Directive 2008/98/EC) details the five steps of the hierarchy. Therefore, much of the UK’s waste policy references it, and policy objectives increasingly aim to embrace it.

This can be seen, for instance, in England’s 2018 Resources and Waste Strategy, and regulations surrounding preparation of re-use, such ‘right-to-repair’ rules.

Furthermore, government encourages any businesses or public bodies handling waste to use the hierarchy as a reference for their activities. Not only does this result in better environmental outcomes, but it can also be financially sensible too as primary resources become increasingly scarce and costly.

Any other questions you may have

If you have a question on the waste hierarchy which is not captured in this document, our team of experts will be happy to help you.

  • If you are an Ecosurety member, you can call or email your account manager directly.

  • If you are not an Ecosurety member, please call us on 0333 4330 370 or send an email to

Louisa Goodfellow, Policy Advisor

Louisa Goodfellow

Policy Manager

As Policy Manager Louisa provides key support to our team, including preparing reports on environmental policy issues and maintaining awareness of new developments.

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