Waste minimisation involves reducing to the lowest possible level the amount and the toxicity of waste being created. Minimizing waste conserves resources and helps to protect the environment. Waste minimisation measures should not simply address the visible solid waste left after manufacture or use of an item, but must also address all of the resources which are consumed during those processes. While recycling can have a positive impact by diverting waste materials from treatment or disposal, strictly speaking recycling is not a waste minimisation process. Methods to achieve this include changes in manufacturing procedures by industry, and changes in habits by the public. In addition, making goods which are designed to last longer, and making it possible to repair them, can delay them becoming waste.
The world leader in waste production, the USA, saw waste increase more than 7 million tonnes between 1998 and 1999. Waste per capita increased by 167 kg, but recycling increased only 62 kg, which meant over 100 pounds of garbage per person were trashed. Ten States reported declines in recycling rates in 1999/2000 and only ten States currently meet their recycling goals, making the recycling rate less than 25%. Factors cited in low recycling rates include the economic boom in the late 1990s that has created more garbage that is not easy to collect. This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities. Agenda 21 recommends: (a) encouraging recycling in industrial processes and at the consumer level; (b) developing processes to reduce waste generation; (c) treating waste before disposal; and (d) making use of biodegradable materials.
Agenda 21 defines waste minimization as a 'preventative waste management approach focused on changes in lifestyles and in production and consumption patterns' with the basic objectives of: (1) stabilizing or reducing the production of wastes by formulating goals based on waste volume, and recycling and reuse; (2) strengthening data collection and management regarding waste production for the purpose of developing waste minimization policy.
Policy makers are also focusing on a more integrated approach to waste management, one that uses cleaner production concepts to minimize the volume of wastes generated by manufacturing processes.
The Upper Canada Brewing Company in Toronto is an independently-owned company which employs approximately 50 people. It has managed to reduce the amount of waste it generates by 99%, resulting in current savings of over $Can 300,000 per year. Reduction initiatives primarily targeted suppliers, requesting that unnecessary packaging be eliminated. The company sent back excess packaging at the suppliers' expense to those supplies that were initially uncooperative. It also arranged for supplies to be shipped in compostable packaging, such as popcorn or newspaper. Recycling initiatives focused on fine paper, beverage containers, newsprint, corrugated cardboard, plastics and organic materials. Spent grains from the brewing process were distributed for animal feed. In the starting year (1990), while no direct revenue was generated through the sale of recyclable materials and a cost of nearly $15,000 was incurred in start-up and capital costs, the company still managed to save a total of $329,200 in fees associated with landfill and collection costs.
Waste is a resource out of place (R. Buckminster Fuller).