Waste Prevention

What is Waste Prevention? Essentially it’s a process of re-thinking how we do things in order not to create waste. When we illustrate waste management options we place waste prevention at the top as the most favored option because by not creating waste we save resources and we don’t have to bear the environmental or monetary cost of treating waste.

By not generating waste, we can eliminate the need to handle, transport, treat and dispose of waste. We can also avoid having to pay for these services. However that’s not to say that we can achieve a Zero Waste Society overnight. There will always be unavoidable waste streams such as empty toothpaste tubes, yesterday’s newspaper, banana skins and chicken bones to name a few examples. However there are many simple steps we can all take at home, at work and in our community to prevent waste from arising, to always segregate waste for composting and recycling and therefore reduce the overall amount of waste we sent to landfill which after all is the least preferred option in the waste hierarchy as shown in the diagram above.

Prevention Vs Recycling

Ireland has very successfully embraced a recycling culture and across all sectors of society from households to schools to businesses segregating waste into separate bins has now become the norm!

Recycling as a waste management option is positioned about mid way in the waste hierarchy – much better than landfilling which is least favourable option. Placing recycling mid way in the pyramid often confuses people – there is a general feel good factor about recycling which makes people think that it’s the “right thing to do” but unfortunately what people don’t realise is that there is an environmental cost associated with recycling. Remember all those items you placed in the recycling bin well they have to be transported, sorted, baled, transported again to a processing plant from where they will then be recycled. All these steps require significant consumption of energy and water as well as emissions and waste by-products.

Also almost all the materials segregated for recycling in Ireland are exported elsewhere for processing.

Reuse, minimisation and prevention are far better options than recycling and actually easier to achieve than we think. Many every day actions and choices are driven unconsciously by resource efficient thoughts for example - buying the right size carton of milk – it would be wasteful and costly to buy 3 litre carton milk when a 1 litre carton is all you need illustrating both cost savings and waste prevention.


Re-use is something we all do but we often don’t think of it as a waste management action. Passing on items amongst family members or friends is an excellent example of re-use but it can also be practiced on a formal basis. Examples of re-use schemes in the Southern Waste Region include: Paint Re-use at recycling centre’s in Limerick where members of the public drop off almost full tins of paint which community groups and other householders can then collect and use in community projects or in their own homes and gardens. www.limerickrecyclingcentres.ie

A new partnership between the Cork Environmental Forum and Cork City & County Councils will see the collection, repair and reuse of mattresses across Cork in the Boomerang Bring back and Reuse initiative new in 2014.


Upcycling is also re-use but with an added dimension; it’s where old items are given some form of “make-over” or improvement that adds value and gives the item new life. Good examples include the West Limerick Resources Furniture Upcycling Project which combines a training initiative with waste prevention. Here items of furniture are salvaged from recycling centres or donated by the public. At the training centre they are stripped, painted or covered and brought up to date to reflect contemporary styles. These items are sold for reasonable prices to help fund the initiative.

Other similar schemes for bicycles, children’s toys and clothes are popping up in the Southern Waste Region – these initiatives are creating jobs, preventing waste and saving people money. Upcycled items generally cost a fraction of the cost of a new item and what’s even better is that they are generally unique. An added benefit if you like to stand out from the crowd!

Many local authorities are also hosting Upcycling Workshops for the public which aim to raise awareness about waste but also to encourage people to seek ways to create something new out of items that otherwise would be discarded from our homes or businesses. Contact your local authority Environment Section and enquire if there is an upcycling workshop scheduled for your area.

Charity Shops are also very good examples of re-use and generally sell a variety of goods at very low costs. We often only think about charity shops when we have things to donate but we should also give these shops our custom when we are going to buy as well.


There are a number of on-line platforms that encourage householders and businesses to offer goods for free to a “new home”. Freetrade Ireland is a website and Smart Phone App that facilitates reuse by householders. In 2013 over 14,000 items were reused through the service and it’s estimated that over 200,000 kgs of quality materials have been diverted away from landfill. Almost 60% of items posted on the website fit into the furniture category. Why not check out the site yourself at www.freetradeireland.ie

Stop Food Waste

The national Stop Food Waste campaign is supported by the Southern Region Waste Management Office and the Local Authorities. Every year there are many events held throughout the region to raise awareness about food waste and ways of preventing it for both householders and small businesses. The average household can save up to €700 per year by changing how they shop, cook and serve food. Log on to www.stopfoodwaste.ie for full resources and guides to get you started. There is also some bonus footage from the recent RTE documentary Waste Watchers featuring members of the Stop Food Waste Team working with businesses

Free Waste Prevention Help from the Local Authority Prevention Network

Both the Southern Region Waste Management Office and the local authorities in the region are committed to assisting the community and local businesses with becoming more resource efficient, saving money and preventing waste. We have experience delivering waste prevention across a number of sectors and the approach taken is tailored to the individual needs of each participating organisation.

Assistance includes:

  • Free onsite efficiency audits for waste, energy and water,
  • Identification of recommendations for improvements including information on what changes are required and how to implement them.
  • Staff training & mentoring

If your company, organization or group is interested please contact pauline.mcdonogh@srwmo.ie

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