Terms related to waste management
and to the environmental sector in general

In the European Union directive 96/61/EC emission limit values were to be based on the best available techniques, as described in item #17: "Whereas emission limit values, parameters or equivalent technical measures should be based on the best available techniques, without prescribing the use of one specific technique or technology and taking into consideration the technical characteristics of the installation concerned, its geographical location and local environmental conditions; whereas in all cases the authorization conditions will lay down provisions on minimizing long-distance or trans-border pollution and ensuring a high level of protection for the environment as a whole. The directive includes a definition of best available techniques in article 2.11:

"best available techniques" shall mean the most effective and advanced stage in the development of activities and their methods of operation which indicate the practical suitability of particular techniques for providing in principle the basis for emission limit values designed to prevent and, where that is not practicable, generally to reduce emissions and the impact on the environment as a whole:

"Best" shall mean most effective in achieving a high general level of protection of the environment as a whole

As applied to environmental policy, the precautionary principle stipulates that for practices such as the release of radiation or toxins, massive deforestation or overpopulation, the burden of proof lies with the advocates. An important element of the precautionary principle is that its most meaningful applications pertain to those that are potentially irreversible, for example where biodiversity may be reduced. With respect to bans on substances like mercury in thermometers, freon in refrigeration, or even carbon dioxide exhaust from automobile engines and power plants, it implies:

"... a willingness to take action in advance of scientific proof [or] evidence of the need for the proposed action on the grounds that further delay will prove ultimately most costly to society and nature, and, in the longer term, selfish and unfair to future generations."

The concept includes ethical responsibilities towards maintaining the integrity of natural systems, and the fallibility of human understanding.

Product Stewardship is often used interchangeably with extended producer responsibility, a similar concept. However, there are distinct differences between the two, as suggested by the semantics of the different terms used; while both concepts bring the onus of waste management for end-of-life products from the government to the manufacturers, Product Stewardship further extends this responsibility to everyone involved in the life-cycle of the product. This includes not only the manufacturers, but also the retailers, consumers and recyclers as well.

The EIA Directive on Environmental Impact Assessment of the effects of projects on the environment was first introduced in 1985 and was amended in 1997. The directive was amended again in 2003 following the 1998 signature by the EU of the Aarhus Convention on public participation in environmental matters. The issue was enlarged to the assessment of plans and programmes by the so called SEA-Directive in 2001 which is now in force and establishes a mix of mandatory and discretionary procedures for assessing environmental impacts.

The goal of LCA is to compare the environmental performance of products and services, to be able to choose the least burdensome one. The term 'life cycle' refers to the notion that a fair, holistic assessment requires the assessment of raw material production, manufacture, distribution, use and disposal including all intervening transportation steps. This is the life cycle of the product. The concept also can be used to optimize the environmental performance of a single product (eco-design) or to optimize the environmental performance of a company. The pollution caused by usage also is part of the analysis. Common categories of assessed damages are global warming (greenhouse gases), acidification, smog, ozone layer depletion, eutrophication, ecotoxic and anthropotoxic pollutants, desertification, land use as well as depletion of minerals and fossil fuels.

The reduction in ecological impacts translates into an increase in resource productivity, which in turn can create a competitive advantage.

The essential aim of sustainable design is to produce places, products and services in a way that reduces use of non-renewable resources, minimizes environmental impact, and relates people with the natural environment. Sustainable design is often viewed as a necessary tool for achieving sustainability. It is related to the more heavy-industry-focused fields of industrial ecology and green chemistry, sharing tools such as life cycle assessment and life cycle energy analysis to judge the environmental impact or "greenness" of various design choices.

Industrial ecology proposes not to see industrial systems (for example a factory, an eco-region, or national or global economy) as being separate from the biosphere, but to consider it as a particular case of an ecosystem - but based on infrastructural capital rather than on natural capital. It is the idea that if natural systems do not have waste in them, we should model our systems after natural ones if we want them to be sustainable.

Along with more general energy conservation and material conservation goals, and redefining commodity markets and product stewardship relations strictly as a service economy, industrial ecology is one of the four objectives of Natural Capitalism.

Standards generally regulate the emissions of NOx, sulphur oxides, particulate matter (PM) or soot, carbon monoxide (CO), or volatile hydrocarbons.

The European Union has its own set of emission standards that all new vehicles must meet. Currently, standards are set for all road vehicles, trains, barges and non-road mobile machinery' (such as tractors). No standards apply to seagoing ships or airplanes. The emissions standards change based on the test cycle used: ECE R49 (old) and ESC (European Steady Cycle, since 2000).

Currently there are no standards for CO2 emissions. The European Parliament has suggested introducing mandatory CO2 emission standards to replace current voluntary commitments by the auto manufacturers.

Incinerators reduce the volume of the original waste by 95-96 %, depending upon composition and degree of recovery of materials such as metals from the ash for recycling. This means that while incineration does not completely replace landfilling, it reduces the necessary volume for disposal significantly.

Incineration has particularly strong benefits for the treatment of certain waste types in niche areas such as clinical wastes and certain hazardous wastes where pathogens and toxins can be destroyed by high temperatures. For example in chemical multi-product plants with diverse toxic or very toxic wastewater streams which cannot be routed to a conventional wastewater treatment plant.

Waste combustion is particularly popular in countries such as Japan where land is a scarce resource. Denmark and Sweden have been leaders in using the energy generated from incineration for more than a century, in localised combined heat and power facilities supporting district heating schemes. A number of other European Countries rely heavily on incineration for handling municipal waste, in particular Luxemburg, The Netherlands, Germany and France.

Composting recycles organic household waste into compost, returns badly needed organic matter to the soil and reduces the garbage going into burgeoning landfills. Decomposition occurs naturally in all but the most hostile environments for decomposers, such as in landfills, arid deserts, cold boreal winters and Polar Regions. But composting speeds it up by providing an optimal environment for decomposers. This requires the correct mix of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and water.

Decomposition occurs even without some of these ingredients, but slower and less pleasantly. For example, vegetables in a plastic bag decompose, but the lack of air encourages the growth of anaerobic microbes, which produce disagreeable odours. Degradation with insufficient air is called anaerobic digestion.