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Waste material management: Prioritization of actions for a better management system

14 July 2017

Waste material management

The generation of waste material is an integral feature of the human mode of life and of organizational activities. Commonly considered as refuse and trash, waste materials are often considered as materials that no longer have any value. Yet, already since the last few decades, the concept of waste-resource is tending to change the ways in which waste materials management is conceptualized. The idea that waste materials are resources whose value can be enhanced comes from the concept according to which matter produced in nature in the form of closed loops is constantly recycled. However, numerous challenges still exist in the way of a healthy management of these materials.


The management of waste materials is not a minor affair. Apart from generation of waste, the problem often occurs in the superficial management of such materials where there is little or no consideration of their environmental consequences. Viewed from a sustainable development perspective, the possibility of material recovery should not be under estimated, let alone dismissed by organizations. Often companies that are generators of substantially higher volumes have an important role to play with regard to the management of refuse produced by their operations. They need to undertake well-thought out processes that effectively prioritize their actions. The integration of the 3R-RD principles within a waste management system is an efficient tool for all organizations.

Switch to a solution mode with the 3R-RD principle

What is the 3R-RD?

The 3R-RD hierarchy is an approach according to which certain actions need to be prioritized with the aim of prolonging the service life of resources. Reduction at source, reuse, recycling, Reclaim and Disposal represent the order of priority according to which reduction should always be the first action while disposal is the last recourse. In the absence of a life cycle analysis in which an objective evaluation of the environmental consequences of the different options adopted by the waste materials management system is done, the 3R-RD approach proves to be the most environment friendly management system.

  1. Reduction at source: Reducing the generation of waste material constitutes the basis of the 3R-RD approach. The maximum economy of resources during manufacturing, distribution and usage of products should always be the primary objective.
  1. Reuse: Reuse is the act of recovering that is prioritized with the aim of putting 3R-RD into practice. It greatly contributes to the economy of resources. It is the repeated use of a product or a wrapping, without significantly modifying its properties or its appearance.
  1. Recycling: Recycling comes second in the act of recuperation that is prioritized with the aim of putting 3R-RD into practice. It reintroduces a waste material in the process of manufacturing or transformation from which it is derived, resulting in a product of the same nature. The idea of recycling also involves the reintroduction of a putrescible organic material in the biological cycle, commonly called composting.
  1. Material and Energy Reclaim: Reclaiming is also an act of recuperation and it can be divided into two sub-categories, namely material reclaim also called reuse, and energy reclaim. Material reclamation consists of using a waste material in place of another material with the aim of creating a product that is different from the initial product. In other words, it is the possibility of introducing a recovered material in a production cycle that is different from the one that generated it. Reuse is an act of recovery that is prioritized but not at the cost of the first three “R” of this approach. Energy reclaim can be defined as the usage of materials that cannot be reused or recycled, but that have substantial calorific potential to produce useful energy (heat, steam or electricity). This form of recovery through chemical transformation of waste is the last action to be considered before resorting to complete disposal of this material.
  1. Disposal: Getting rid of waste materials, either by burying or incineration, without creating a secondary material should never take precedence over the other actions mentioned previously in the 3R-RD approach. Very often, disposal is used as a simple and fast way to dispose of waste materials without considering their potential and the environmental impact of bad waste disposal management.

Integrating the 3R-RD within a waste management system

The principles of the 3R-RD are known the world over, but their application and their complete integration within waste management systems of organizations is not a simple task. The establishment of a structured system and a thoroughly thought out process is the key to ensuring effective management within organizations.

At the very outset, in all organizations, the management authority should support the setting up of this new system or the improvement of the previously existing system. The drafting of an environmental policy, especially on the management of waste material, helps to formalize the commitment of the authority. Financial support, the creation of a committee and the appointment of a responsible person are essential elements towards its setting up.

Before any planning, it is necessary to get an overview of the situation. For this purpose, it is essential to get a thorough diagnosis of the waste matter generated and its present management. This stage helps to identify the issues and determine the priorities that are indispensable for drawing up a plan of action. A complete identification of the waste matter is sometimes necessary to check the composition and the quantities generated.

Once the profile is established, the next step begins, that is, the stage of thorough reflection according to the 3R-RD principles. Ideally, undertaking a series of life cycle analyses of different materials and different possible modes of management would be the course of action. However, this manner of functioning is not accessible to all organizations due to lack of resources and it can also prove to be complex and not completely reliable. The principles of 3R-RD are thus a reference for waste material management. The process of reflection allows the organization to question its way of functioning and analyzing, and on the one hand, helps it to determine its requirements of raw materials and on the other, take account of waste materials generated.

In order to ensure the implementation of concrete actions for better waste material management and reduction, it is imperative to elaborate a detailed plan of action. Objectives should be laid out wherein are elaborated one or more actions as well as a series of information such as indicators, targets and necessary resources. The results expected should be precise and the time frame, realistic. . The creation of a communication plan is also helpful in the implementation of new waste management initiatives.

A management system should be adapted to the type of organization, to the types of materials generated etc., rather than to the installations. Nothing should be left to chance and no material should be disposed of under the pretext of an incomplete thought process.


A waste management system that integrates the 3R-RD without compromising on the process of reflection associated with it, has several advantages:

Financial advantages:

  • Make savings by maximizing the efficiency of raw materials necessary to operations;
  • Reducing operational costs;
  • Avoiding storage, handling and waste disposal costs;
  • Achieving financial gains by re-using equipment, by the sale of recyclable material in the market, through the transformation of residual material into new marketable products or through energy recovery;
  • Improving its image in the eyes of its client, employees and citizens;
  • Generating employment and wealth.

Environmental advantages:

  • Reducing the consumption of raw materials that are not essential for the operations;
  • Reducing the demand for raw material or new material thanks to the recovery of residual material;
  • Reducing the production of greenhouse gases caused by the transportation of waste material;
  • Reducing the production of biogas associated with burying and avoiding the risk of leachate contamination.

 Advantages for the organization:

  • Avoiding the organization’s costs linked to pollution;
  • Making employees, clients and the population as a whole aware of a healthier waste management system;
  • Mobilizing the employees and the authorities towards the achievement of eco-responsible actions.

Computerizing waste management

A computerized waste management system is an important tool for organizations that wish to improve their environmental performance and to make the most of the principles of the 3R-RD. Since all the steps previously mentioned can be included in the computerized system, the efficiency will be considerable. This type of system not only allows the elaboration of a policy, a diagnosis, a profiling and a course of action, but it also helps to rigorously monitor the implementation of the commitments made by the authorities and the implementation of the actions and the achievement of objectives laid out in the plan.

An Environment, Health, and Safety (EHS) software, such as CONFORMiT offers the possibility of analyzing risks and conducting inspections related to waste material management. It also allows one to create processes specific to the management system and clearly indicates any incident or accident associated with it. The possibility of connecting equipment and human resources to the management system helps the process, especially if notifications are sent to the responsible persons who will ensure timely accomplishment of tasks. Moreover, the control panels created in this software with the data entered helps to visualize the management of materials in the organization and take clearer decisions. The points mentioned here are only a few examples of what can be done with the help of a computerized waste management system. In this way, such computerized tools can greatly facilitate the functioning of organizations with regard to time, efficiency, reduction of risks and especially environmental performance.


In conclusion, waste materials have the potential of entering into a second chain of activities and bringing numerous environmental and economic benefits, even to the organization. The idea is simple: ultimately, it is necessary to give importance to the best practices that help to reduce the quantity of waste sent for disposal. Compliance with the 3R-RD hierarchy allows one to maximize the efficiency of a waste management system. By seriously applying the 3R-RD approach many organizations optimize their performance by adopting innovative approaches such as eco-design, eco-technology, eco-efficiency and dematerialization to improve their environmental record and their efficiency.

Maxime Ouellet CGO CONFORMiT
Written by Maxime Ouellet