Global Partnership 12 October 2012
on Waste Management English only
Biennium Conference of the Global
Partnership on Waste Management
Osaka, Japan, 5 and 6 November 2012
Background paper on waste minimization
1. Waste minimization strategies prevent waste through upstream interventions and are inspired
by an approach that can be referred to as “waste as resource” – which implies that rather than regarding
waste as a problem, waste streams – such as heat, chemicals and materials – can be utilized as valuable
input resources. Industrialization models and consumption patterns largely follow a linear model of
“take, make, dispose” which depletes finite reserves and creates significant waste, loss of value and
negative impacts along the material chain.1 By recognizing approaches, designing synergies and
identifying commercially viable ways to reuse wastes, industrialization models and consumption
patterns can move away from the linear, end-of-life pattern toward a circular model more focused on
restoration and regeneration. 2
2. On the production side, these strategies focus on optimizing resource and energy use and
lowering toxicity levels during manufacture. On the consumption side, waste minimization strategies
strengthen awareness and prompt environmentally conscious consumption patterns and consumer
responsibility to reduce the overall levels of waste generation. The work of the waste minimization focal
area aims to strengthen awareness, develop better understanding of enabling conditions, share
information on waste minimization practices, provide guidelines and training materials, build capacity at
national and local levels, and draft strategies to promote waste minimization in pilot cities, countries and
3. Recycling waste makes good business sense by reducing costs related to waste disposal and
wasted materials, as well as meeting customer demand for sustainable business practices. 3 This
approach can cut costs, increase efficiency and help secure resource supplies by optimizing the use of
materials.4 Finally, it benefits the environment by ensuring the best use of raw materials, reducing waste
volumes destined for landfills or incineration and reducing CO2 emissions. 5
II. Overview of the current state of loss from waste
4. Waste in the production chain: Significant volumes of materials are commonly lost in the
production chain between resource extraction and final manufacturing. For instance, the Sustainable
Europe Research Institute (SERI) estimates that, each year, OECD countries consume over 21 billion
tonnes of materials that are never physically incorporated into the final products themselves (i.e.,
materials that never enter the economic system—such as overburden and parting materials from mining,
by-catch from fishing, wood and agricultural harvesting losses, as well as soil excavation and dredged
materials from construction activities).
Ellen MacArthur Foundation at www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy
Drawn from the concept of a circular economy for industrialization, discussed in detail at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation at
Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) at www.wrap.org.uk
For reasons of economy, this document is printed in a limited number. Participants are kindly requested to bring their copies to
meetings and not to request additional copies.
5. Food markets provide a snapshot of wastage along the value chain. Material losses occur at
several different steps in the production of food: in the field due to pests or pathogens, during
agricultural production due to poor efficiency, spills or leakages during transport (exacerbated by ever-
longer global supply chains), during storage and at the retailer’s due to spoilage, and products simply
going unused by end consumers. Along the entire food supply chain, these losses globally add up to an
estimated one-third of food produced for human consumption every year. 6
6. For most materials, rates of conventional recovery after the end of their (first) functional life
are quite low compared with primary manufacturing rates. In terms of volume, some 65 billion tonnes of
raw materials entered the global economic system in 2010—a figure expected to grow to about 82
billion tonnes in 2020.
7. In Europe, 2.7 billion tonnes of waste were generated in 2010, but only about 40% of that
was reused, recycled, or composted and digested. Looking at individual waste streams, an even starker
picture emerges: current recycling rates are significant for only a handful of waste types, mostly those
that occur in large, fairly homogeneous volumes. A recent UNEP report7, for example, notes that only
around one-third of the 60 metals it studied showed a global end-of-life recycling rate of 25% or more.
Taking a closer look at various ferrous and non-ferrous metals reveals that even for metals that already
have high recycling rates, significant value is lost—ranging from annual losses of USD 52 billion for
copper and USD 34 billion for gold, to USD 15 billion for aluminium and USD 7 billion for silver. 8
8. Losses are also apparent at industry-specific levels. Rubble produced during the construction
and demolition of buildings, which accounts for 26% of the total non-industrial solid waste produced in
the United States, includes many recyclable materials from steel to wood to concrete. Only 20 to 30% of
all construction and demolition waste is ultimately recycled or reused, often because buildings are
designed and built in a way that is not conducive to the breakdown of parts into recyclable or reusable
components. The result is a significant loss of valuable materials for the system. 9
III. Overview of waste minimization tools and approaches
9. The most promising strategy for ensuring sustainability in production and consumption lies
in decoupling future economic growth from the rising rates of natural resource use and the
environmental impacts that occur across the production–consumption continuum. Decoupling economic
growth from demands on natural resources, and growth that results in negative environmental impacts,
follow different dynamics and require different policy responses depending on each country’s
consumption and resource endowment levels.
10. The International Resource Panel report on Decoupling10 argues the necessity of a new
economic model involving reduced resource use, emission and waste intensity of production and
consumption. Economy-wide resource decoupling can be said to occur when resource productivity
improves at a rate that is faster than the economic growth rate (i.e., using the same amount of or fewer
resources). This means that more economic value and a greater level of well-being can be achieved with
fewer negative environmental impacts or, indeed, even restoration of eco-system services.
J. Gustavsson, C. Cederberg, U. Sonesson, R. van Otterdijk, A. Meybeck. Global food losses and food waste – Extent, causes
and prevention. Food And Agriculture Organization Of The United Nations, Rome, 2011
UNEP International Resource Panel, Recycling Rates of Metals – a status report 2011
8 Source: U.S. Geological Survey Minerals Information Database. Losses are calculated based on expected recovered volume of
2010 metal production, assuming today’s recycling rates remaining constant until end-of-life of all product applications. The
difference between recovered volume and hypothetically recoverable volumes under complete recycling, multiplied with today’s
market prices for secondary materials, gives monetary loss.
9 U.S. EPA, Buildings and their Impact on the Environment: A Statistical Summary; revised April 22, 2009
10 UNEP (2011) Decoupling natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth, A Report of the Working
Group on Decoupling to the International Resource Panel.
IV. Waste Minimization as part of Resource Efficient and
11. What is waste? Waste is defined as a non-product output with a negative or zero market
value. Waste can be solid, liquid or have a paste-like consistency. Water and air-polluting emissions –
although they are non-product output – are not regarded as waste. If the value of the waste fluctuates
according to market conditions, accumulated net costs/revenues during the reporting period are used to
determine the market value.
12. The following are some examples for waste minimisation, as per the guidelines of the
Promoting Resource Efficiency in – Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (PRE_SMEs) manual:
a) Resource optimisation: Optimised use of raw materials can mean improving the efficiency
of the pattern in which the parts in stamping are laid out on the sheet metal to minimise the area
b) Reuse of scrap: Scraps can be taken back into the process; paper mills can return damaged
paper from breakage into the pulper to recover the fibres.
c) Improved quality control and process monitoring: Inspection and even better automated
continuous monitoring equipment can help to minimise lost batches, helping to identify process
d) Waste exchanges: Waste from one process can become raw material for another: spent
catalysts from a chemical company can become raw material in the production of other(?) catalysts,
collected motor oil can be used as fuel in a boiler.
13. A number of companies have benefited from the assistance of the Resource Efficient and
Cleaner Production (RECP) service providers network, aiming at the improvement of the production
process including through waste minimization. Their respective cases can be identified at:
14. The following areas of intervention can help to address existing challenges associated with
Product design and - Material choice optimisation
production - Design for sustainability
- Easier disassembly / material recovery
- Production process efficiency
11 UNEP (2010) PRE-SME – Promoting Resource Efficiency in Small & Medium Sized Enterprises - Industrial training
New business model - ‘Consumer as user’
- Performance contracts
- Products become services
Technologies - Collection systems
- Technology adaptation and dissemination
Enabling conditions 1. Cooperation with different stakeholders
- Joint collection systems; Industry standards; Aligned
incentives; and Match-maker mechanisms
2. Favourable investment climate
- Availability of financing and risk management tools
3. Establishment of regulatory framework
- Regulation in accounting, taxation, customs tariffs, customer
and corporate responsibility, certification, and standardisation
15. The focal area on waste minimization can intervene in a variety of ways to address a number
of the challenges outlined above:
16. Design for sustainability and eco-innovation: a EU funded project to help develop industries’
capacity, specifically small- and medium-sized enterprises, to produce sustainable goods and services.
The project will help design products and services to reduce their environmental impacts, including the
reduction of waste generated and the promotion of the reuse of the resources. The project was launched
in July 2012 and will continue for three years. The project will develop an overall methodology to
embed sustainability in the design of products, focusing on products from three sectors (agro-
processing, metals and chemicals). The project will also facilitate the collection of case studies of
successful implementation of the Eco-innovation approach at global level.
17. Partnership on food waste: within the framework of the work undertaken by UNEP and
FAO, a campaign to promote sustainable lifestyles for consumers and households and educate against
food wastage. The campaign aims to develop tools that will allow countries and stakeholders to develop
waste reduction action plans, and is expected to launch in 2012.
18. Eco-industrial parks: as part of the EU funded project, the development of guidelines to
promote a closed-loop manufacturing approach within industrial parks, including waste recovery and
19. Waste minimization in priority supply chain: During the June 2012 meeting of the
Sustainable Building and Construction Initiative (SBCI), the members established a task force for
“greening the building sector supply chain” to address resource efficiency including waste streams. The
task force will soon begin its work and the efforts to minimize waste along this supply chain are
included in the work programme.
20. Development of a study on “waste as resource”, in close coordination with the International
21. Waste minimization in cities, including opportunities associated with urban mining.
V. Possible discussion points
22. The panel discussion will address the following questions:
a) What are effective ways to promote waste minimization practices? What is the role of
regulation in the promotion of waste minimization? How influential are efforts to raise consumer
b) Leading companies are already implementing waste minimization approaches: is it common
practice for business to share lessons learned and success cases? Are there specific sectors that
indicate a greater willingness to promote or undertake waste minimization approaches?
c) What is required for the implementation of closed-looped manufacturing practices in
industrial parks as a means to minimize waste, especially in emerging economies and developing
d) How can cities promote waste minimization practices?
23. Win-win opportunities exist, if manufacturing industries pursue life-cycle approaches and
introduce resource efficiency and productivity improvements. This requires supply and demand-side
approaches, ranging from the re-design of products and systems to cleaner technologies and closed-
cycle manufacturing. If the life of all manufactured products were to be extended by 10 per cent, for
example, the volume of resources extracted could be cut by a similar amount. The costs of end of pipe
pollution control can be reduced by cleaner production approaches in management, cleaner raw material
selection, and cleaner technologies that reduce emissions and integrate by-products into the production
24. A number of conditions can ensure the smooth implementation of waste minimization and
closed-cycle manufacturing approaches.
a) Innovation needs to be accompanied by new policies and economic instruments in order to
enable energy and broader resource-efficiency improvements.
b) Mindful that manufacturing is not a uniform industry, governments need to consider
approaches that meet the realities of specific industries and their value chains that often stretch
across national economies.
c) Developing countries have a strong potential to leapfrog inefficient technologies by adopting
cleaner production programmes, particularly those that provide support to smaller companies, many
of which serve global value chains.
e) Of special importance to manufacturing is the introduction of recognised standards and
labels, backed by reliable methodologies.
12 UNEP, 2011, Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication