You might hear the term post-consumer waste thrown around the industry, but what does it mean? To put it into perspective, the UK produces an average of 100 million tonnes of waste each year. This is a combination of household waste and commercial and industrial waste. Over half of our waste is recovered using recycling or other techniques. The other half is deposited into landfill or incineration.
Post-consumer waste is the waste produced at the end of a consumer-product lifecycle. The product is bought and consumed so has served its intended use. Post-consumer waste refers to the household waste we generate every day. This includes food, beverages, packaging or garden trimmings.
Depending on the type of waste and the action taken by the consumer, post-consumer waste is recycled, sent to landfill or incinerated. The environmental impact of landfill and incineration is significant. Waste releases gases and toxins from improper decomposition without oxygen and burning at low temperatures. Post-consumer waste must be recycled or reused to prevent tonnes of waste polluting our environment.
Pre-consumer waste refers to waste produced by manufacturers or industries before released for consumer use. Commercial and industrial sectors are responsible for producing 40 million tonnes of waste each year. This includes metal, paper and card, chemicals, food, minerals or oils. These are generated by restaurants, shops, factories and industrial plants.
Pre-consumer waste is produced in large quantities from a small number of locations. To ensure compliance with governmental legislation, it can be disposed of through skips or other specialised collection bins. While this is easier to collect and sort, the majority of pre-consumer waste is non-recovered. Like post-consumer waste, it’s sent to landfill or incinerated.
Recycling post-consumer waste
To prevent tonnes of post-consumer waste being deposited in landfill that pollutes our land and oceans, it must be recycled or reused. Single-use materials are damaging to our environment as they consume large amounts of energy and give nothing in return. This is worsened when new plastic is constantly generated to meet consumer demand. This means we’re producing more materials and elements that can easily be prevented by recovering.
Contrary to what we see in the media, plastic isn’t the sole problem. Even though plastics take hundreds of years to decompose, some alternatives are just as damaging to our environment. For example, replacing plastic straws with paper straws is a short-term solution. But these products are still single-use and require energy to produce and dispose of. Using sustainable products that last years is an eco-friendly solution. For example, ditch the plastic or wooden cutlery for metal.
While we’re making great progress in this area, there’s so much work that remains to be done to reduce the amount of waste that is non-recovered. Learn about the benefits of recycling post-consumer waste here.