Over the past decade, OECD governments, the private sector and others have spent considerable resources on environmental protection and waste reduction. A number of countries have developed waste prevention plans and measures targeted at specific sectors or product groups. Yet, waste generation has only just begun to diminish and remains at relatively high levels in most member countries. To help governments make further progress in this area, the OECD is now engaging in an effort to establish an inventory of waste prevention measures that are in place and to identify the most effective policies.
The OECD work programme on waste minimisation began in 1994. The initial step was to compile information on existing policies and tools for waste minimisation in OECD countries. The second phase of the OECD Waste Minimisation Programme focused on the development of a common understanding of waste minimisation and its components (strict prevention, reduction at source, product re‑use, recycling, and, when appropriate, energy recovery). This work resulted in a series of OECD publications covering specific waste streams, tools and policy approaches.
During the third and final phase of the project, the OECD focused its efforts more squarely on the prevention component of waste minimisation. Since wastes are generated throughout the life of economic activities, this phase of work added a resource flow perspective to the initial waste minimisation approach and will comprise waste prevention policy design, target setting, implementation and evaluation. The overall aim of this phase was to develop a Reference Manual on Strategic Waste Prevention.
Following the publication of the OECD Reference Manual on Strategic Waste Prevention, it was clearly recognised that there is a lack of internationally accepted waste prevention indicators. To address this fundamental problem, a multi-year project devoted to examining and developing waste prevention performance indicators was initiated in 2000. To launch this project, the OECD held a first International Workshop on Waste Prevention Performance Indicators in 2001. Based on the workshop recommendations, work was initiated on drivers for waste generation with the aim to develop pressure indicators for waste prevention. Also work has been undertaken on response indicators and on material flow accounts aiming towards the development of indirect pressure and response indicators for waste prevention. This work still continues.
Although the concept of waste prevention has been broadly accepted, it became evident during this project that ever‑growing waste amounts, waste diversity, and associated risks, are heightening the need for governments to vigorously pursue waste prevention as an essential component of strategy for a sustainable future. Also the associated financial and environmental benefits were broadly recognised, such as reduced investments to waste management, reduced air and water pollution and most notably the reduced emission of greenhouse gases. Also it was demonstrated that measurement of waste prevention is possible and feasible.