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The social and economic development of a country can cause an increase in pressures on its environment and increases the need for a reduction in environmentally damaging activities. Some of these damaging activities involve the production and disposal of waste. The more waste we produce, the more we have to dispose. The production of consumables in the first place, and their disposal when used uses up valuable natural resources and energy, processes which can impact upon the environment and in particular the atmosphere through pollution. Sustainable waste management encourages the generation of less waste, the re-use of consumables, and the recycling and recovery of waste that is produced.

Waste is generated by all sorts of means. Most waste comes from domestic and municipal consumption of goods, manufacturing, construction, sewage treatment, agriculture and the generation and disposal of hazardous substances. Waste includes paper, plastics, glass, metals, foods, chemicals, oils, bricks, wood, soil, and effluent.

The Waste Strategy 2000 for England & Wales describes the policies concerning the recovery and disposal of waste. These policies are a requirement of all countries in the European Union (EU). The key objectives of the strategy are to reduce the risk of pollution from those wastes. The idea of 'sustainable development' has been incorporated into the themes of the Waste Strategy 2000. This requires countries within the EU to give careful consideration to the environmental impacts of waste disposal. The UK has implemented the EU strategy by developing the idea of a 'waste management hierarchy'. This encompasses the processes of reduction, re-use, recycling and recovery, in that order of priority.