Under detailed guidance for the new waste hierarchy, which will be legally binding for all EU member states, the Commission has declared that the rules can be deviated from if it can be proven that following the hierarchy would not be in the best environmental interest of a product’s lifecycle.

It states: “For special waste streams member states are allowed to depart from the waste hierarchy when this is justified by lifecycle thinking on the overall impacts of the generation and management of those specific waste streams”.

In general, it continued, the waste hierarchy should apply “as a priority order in waste prevention and management legislation and policy” while allowing member states a “degree of flexibility”.

The guidance also set out some pointers for when lifecycle thinking and assessment should be applied to waste management services – for example, when evaluating different options for bio-waste streams such as food.

Under lifecycle thinking, both the upstream and downstream benefits and trade-offs associated with goods and services are taken into consideration. These include extraction of natural resources, material processing, manufacturing, marketing, distribution and use.

Under the revised Waste Framework Directive, the new hierarchy has a broader focus – whereas the previous version contained prevention, recovery and disposal, the latest model has five steps and gives greater priority to reuse over recycling. A new concept ‘preparing for reuse’ has also been introduced.

Maxine Perella

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