Figure 1: Waste management hierarchy

The objects of the Waste Act are structured around the steps in the waste management hierarchy, which is the overall approach that informs waste management in South Africa. Therefore, the NWMS follows the waste management hierarchy approach.

The waste management hierarchy consists of options for waste management during the lifecycle of waste, arranged in descending order of priority. All stakeholders must apply the waste management hierarchy in making decisions on how to manage waste.

The foundation of the hierarchy, and the first choice of measures in waste management, is avoidance and reduction. This step aims for goods to be designed in a manner that minimises their waste components. Also, the reduction of the quantity and toxicity of waste generated during the production process is important.

The next stage of the hierarchy is re-using waste. Re-using an article removes it from the waste stream for use in a similar or different purpose without changing its form or properties. After re-use comes the recycling of waste, which involves separating articles from the waste stream and processing them as products or raw materials.

These first four stages of the waste management hierarchy are the foundation of cradle-tocradle waste management. This approach seeks to re-use or recycle a product when it reaches the end of its life span. In this way, it becomes inputs for new products and materials. This cycle repeats itself until as small a portion as possible of the original roduct eventually enters the next level of the waste management hierarchy: recovery.

Recovery involves reclaiming particular components or materials, or using the waste as a fuel.

As a last resort, waste enters the lowest level of the hierarchy to be treated and / or disposed of, depending on the safest manner for its final disposal.

Where the quantity of waste cannot be reduced during production, the purpose of implementing the waste management hierarchy is to use waste as a resource and divert these potential resources from landfill. Although landfill is widely considered the most affordable way to manage waste, this view does not take into account factors such as the environmental impacts of landfills; the costs of developing and maintaining additional landfill capacity to accommodate the increasing rate of waste disposal; and the cost of closing and remediating the landfill.

The goals of waste avoidance and reduction and the shift from landfilling waste to using it as a resource will be discussed in greater detail in relation to Goal 1.