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Instruments for Waste Prevention and Promoting Material Efficiency

A Nordic Review

image of Instruments for Waste Prevention and Promoting Material Efficiency

Waste quantities in most EU countries are growing. To reverse this trend we need effective waste prevention policy instruments. In the new waste framework directive the EU demands member states to establish national waste prevention programmes. This project aimed at finding new policy instruments for waste prevention and material efficiency through discussions with Nordic experts. The purpose of this report is to give ideas to Nordic countries for possible policy tools to be introduced and to support the preparation of national waste prevention strategies and other environmental strategies.

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Comment

This report is a comprehensive review of instruments for promoting waste prevention and material efficiency. The perspective of my comment is based on series of studies on material efficiency conducted by our research group with business enterprises and households. One of our observations is that waste prevention is a problematic term for a number of reasons. Firstly, regardless of the aim of prevention, once the term “waste” is mentioned, psychologically it has already been created. Thoughts turn into ways of treating waste: reuse, recycling, and energy recovery. Strict avoidance and reduction at the source, which are at the highest levels at the waste prevention hierarchy, are easily bypassed. Another problem with the term waste is that in business enterprises waste issues are usually delegated to environmental or EHS personnel, or to facility managers or the like. Managers and experts in these positions have little means to influence at a strategic level to procurement, production and process decisions. These are the levels and areas where the major waste avoidance or source reduction need to take place, because they are tightly interwoven with production, product, and process decisions. Thus major waste prevention potential remains at the discretion of the top and line managers, who in turn consider waste issues outside of their scope of operation – and often also find them uninteresting; a necessary duty, that is best to be taken care of by someone else. Therefore, if any paradigm shift in waste prevention is aimed at, new terminologies such as material efficiency or the like are called for. This report shows the right way by explicitly including material efficiency at the side of waste prevention. As new ways acting upon waste generation are urgently needed, I hope that in the future environmental policy objectives shift from Waste Prevention to Material Efficiency and Sustainable Material Management, helping to frame the problem in a more inclusive fashion.

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