There is a lot of specialized vocabulary in the world of waste management and recycling. Here are some of the most important terms and definitions that consumers should know.
Automation—A waste collection method in which trash containers are picked up and emptied by a robotic arm or lift on the collection vehicle (rather than trash containers being manually emptied into the vehicle by a sanitation worker).
Biodegradable—Referring to a material that can be broken down by bacteria, fungi, or other microorganisms into simple compounds that can be easily and safely absorbed by the environment.
Bottle Bill—A law that some states have passed which adds a refundable deposit into the price of a beverage container to encourage recycling. When the consumer returns the bottle or can to the retailer, the deposit is refunded.
Buy back center—A business set up to encourage recycling by purchasing (“buying back”) recyclable materials from the public.
Centralized resource recovery—The practice of collecting a variety of recyclable materials and taking them to a single centralized location for processing.
Closed-loop recycling—Making a new product out of a reprocessed version of the same product; for example, making a new aluminum can by recycling and reprocessing an old one.
Commercial waste—Referring to the producers of the waste rather than the type of waste, commercial waste is waste produced by businesses, traders, and public venues and institutions such as stadiums.
Commingled materials—A mix of different kinds of recyclable materials collected in the same container (as opposed to collecting each type of material, such as glass, paper, and plastic, separately).
Curbside collection—A program wherein household garbage and recycling is set out in special containers on the curb to be collected by municipal or private vehicles and taken to processing facilities.
Diversion—Refers to the practice of reusing, recycling, or composting waste, diverting it away from the landfill.
Dump—Unlike a landfill, a dump is an unmanaged and uncovered area where waste is disposed of without health and safety or environmental protocol.
Grasscycling—The practice of leaving grass clippings on the lawn after mowing, allowing them to decompose and return nutrients to the ground rather than sending them unnecessarily to the landfill.
Hauler—Term for a garbage collection company, particularly those that collect recyclables as well as trash.
Household hazardous waste—Products commonly found in the home, such as cleaners, pesticides, or oil-based paints, that can be harmful to human health and the environment if they are not properly disposed of.
Incinerator—A specialized furnace used for burning garbage, often to produce energy.
Integrated waste management—A comprehensive approach to solid waste management that incorporates various complementary management techniques—like source reduction, recycling, and composting—to reduce the amount of waste sent to the landfill or incinerated.
Landfill—A specially designed and engineered site where solid waste is disposed of.
Materials reclamation facility (MFR)—An MFR is a facility where the sorting and processing of recyclable materials take place.
Municipal solid waste—A general term for “regular” garbage originating from non-industrial sources such as houses and apartments, restaurants, and office buildings.
Product life cycle—The stages that a product goes through, from its origin or creation to the end of its useful life.
Reclaimed—Halfway between reuse and recycling, reclaimed materials have not been entirely reprocessed, but are still being reused in a form different from their original state.
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)—The legislation that governs the management and disposal of waste in the United States.
Solid waste—All garbage, solid or semi-solid, that is discarded from households, industries, or communities.
Source reduction—Any practice that has the goal of reducing the amount of waste that ends up in the landfill by preventing it from being generated in the first place. An example of source reduction is buying a product in bulk to avoid generating waste from packaging.
Source separation—The practice of sorting waste materials at their point of origin and separating them into designated containers for different types of recyclables and waste.
Special waste—Any type of waste that is non-hazardous but still requires special handling. This waste is often produced from industrial sources.
Tipping fee—The fee charged for dropping off waste at a landfill or incinerator, or for unloading materials at a recycling center.
Waste audit—Often conducted by businesses or institutions trying to reduce the amount of waste they generate, a waste audit is a comprehensive inventory of the quantity and type of waste produced at a specific location over a set period of time.
Waste stream—Also known as “municipal solid waste” (see definition above), the waste stream is an umbrella term for the waste disposed of by a community.
Waste-to-energy—The process of burning waste at a specialized facility specifically to generate energy or electricity.