Minimized CO2 emissions due to the waste hierarchy framework

A case study on effectively applying it in practice

Waste is inherent to today’s supply chains, especially in the food industry, so much that 6% of all greenhouse gas emissions come from food losses and waste. At the same time, corporations and countries pledge to lower their emissions, but they still need to find solutions to materialize the reduction. Waste hierarchies were developed to solve this. To minimize the impact of waste, they present guidelines as to which waste alternative use to prioritise.

Waste hierarchies are a good first step to implementing environmental awareness in E&O management. However, the guidelines are not always efficient and lack clear industry-specific implementations, leading to a focus on the wrong alternatives and unrealized emission savings. Therefore, I, Matthieu de Terwangne Master’s student in Sustainable management and Technology, decided to investigate a concrete case study and create a standard methodology to improve this process.



In this thesis, we created a methodology to use as a guideline to assess the efficiency of waste hierarchies in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and costs. It consists of three main steps. 

The first step involves gathering and analyzing all accessible data on waste production. This includes obtaining information on stock levels, composition, obsolescence or expiry systems of products, and the current waste management strategy. The data is cleaned and analyzed to provide a clear view of the waste situation. 

The second step focuses on defining when a product enters the waste cycle and identifying different potential uses for waste products. This step helps in categorizing waste management alternatives and choosing the best option based on environmental impact and other factors. The methodology emphasizes the importance of considering the demand for the converted product originating from waste if applicable. 

The third step is the cornerstone of the quantitative analysis. It involves conducting a life cycle assessment (LCA) to quantify the environmental impact of waste management alternatives. The LCA considers factors such as greenhouse gas emissions and costs associated with each alternative. The methodology highlights the need to consider the climate change mitigation potential of alternatives and choose the best option accordingly. 

Throughout the methodology, there is an emphasis on the accessibility and feasibility of waste hierarchies. The documentation on how to carry out a LCA is easily accessible, making the process simpler. The methodology also encourages exploring new alternatives and verifying their impact, rather than solely focusing on existing waste management practices. 

Overall, this methodology provides a systematic approach for companies to assess the efficiency of waste hierarchies in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and costs. It offers a framework for decision-making, highlights the importance of considering environmental impact and explores new alternatives in waste management strategies. 

waste hierarchy in practice in supply chain

Case study: waste hierarchy in practice 

Using the methodology, a case study was conducted on Company P, a Dutch company in the frozen food industry, aiming to analyse and improve its waste management strategy in terms of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The study was conducted using a waste hierarchy approach, specifically Moerman’s ladder, to categorize waste products and identify the most environmentally friendly alternatives. 

The first step of the case study involved analysing the available data on stock, demand levels, and waste status of each stock-keeping unit (SKU). The waste data revealed that a significant amount of waste was generated during the COVID-19 pandemic due to order cancellations and disruptions in the supply chain. The waste was categorized into different alternatives, including human food repackaging, animal feed, fermentation, prevention, and dumping. The analysis showed that the majority of waste, around 812 kg over four years, was repackaged into human food. The second-largest waste channel was animal feed, accounting for 312 kg of waste. The remaining waste was allocated to fermentation, prevention, and dumping. 

The second step of the case study involved conducting a life cycle assessment (LCA) to quantify the environmental impact of waste management alternatives. The LCA considered factors such as GHG emissions and costs associated with each alternative. The results indicated that waste hierarchies, when implemented properly, can significantly reduce GHG emissions.


waste hierarchy study

Based on the findings, we recommend implementing waste hierarchies as a first step in improving waste management practices. It also emphasized the importance of considering the demand for converted products and the potential double use of waste hierarchies. Additionally, the study highlighted the need for ongoing monitoring and analysis to improve waste management strategies. 

Overall, the case study on Company P demonstrated the effectiveness of waste hierarchies in reducing GHG emissions and provided valuable insights for companies in the processed potato products industry and beyond to optimize their waste management practices.


Better forecasting, E&O management 

In summary, the key takeaway for supply chain managers is to prioritize waste management as an integral part of their sustainability efforts. By implementing waste hierarchies, quantifying environmental impact, adapting to company and industry needs, considering economies of scale, and continuously improving waste management practices, supply chain managers can drive positive environmental change and achieve sustainable supply chain operations. 

If you’re interested in learning more about these findings, and their practical implications or want to engage in further discussions, feel free to contact one of our experts. 

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