There’s no denying it; we’re waste nerds here at Rubicon. In fact, it’s not uncommon to walk about our halls and hear people casually throwing around words like anaerobic digestion, OCC or Gaylord as part of everyday conversation. We realize that to anyone who doesn’t live and breathe waste and recycling as we do, this may sound like a foreign language.
So, while we try to keep the jargon to a minimum, we also thought it wise to offer a quick crash course in waste terminology, chocked full of commonly used terms in the waste world and their definitions. Ready to dive in?
Containers and Equipment
Let’s start with types of waste containers and equipment. Believe it or not, there are nearly a dozen ways to say trash can in the waste world, and that’s just the beginning! Here’s a list of some of the most common terms you may hear about waste containers and equipment.
- Bin: a small waste collection container used to hold limited quantities of waste, such as compostables, recycling, and landfill waste, before it is transported to a larger disposal container, such as a dumpster
- Dumpster: a large waste collection container designed to be lifted and emptied into a garbage or recycling truck
- Front Load Dumpster: a mid-size waste collection container that is emptied via prongs on the front of a waste collection truck, lifting the container up and over the front of the truck to be dumped upside down in the open back of the truck
- Tote or Roll Cart: a cart on wheels used to collect waste and recyclables. The wheels are used to facilitate transportation to the curbside or to the hauling truck; also known as a rear load container
- Roll-off or Open Top: a large waste collection container designed for industrial businesses or temporary projects like landscaping work or construction. Unlike front load containers, trucks can only haul one roll-off at a time
- Commingled Container: a single waste container used to house a blended collection of some or all of the following material categories: paper, aluminum, steel, glass, and plastic
- Compactor: a type of equipment that uses pressure to compress recyclable materials into a dense mass
- Baler: equipment used to bind a compacted cube or block of recyclable material, such as cardboard
- Lockbar: a locking system used on dumpsters to keep the dumpster lid closed for the purpose of preventing rainwater entry and to keep unauthorized users from discarding waste into the container
- Gaylord: a large, reusable corrugated container – commonly referred to as a cardboard box – used for transporting materials such as hazardous or universal waste
It’s important to know that trash is not just trash. It’s made up of many different waste materials, from plastic and paper to metals and glass, and more. And each of these broad waste categories can be broken down to a more granular level. Let’s dive into some of the nitty-gritty waste types.
- Waste: unwanted materials left over as a result of human habitation or manufacturing and production processes
- Municipal Solid Waste (MSW): commonly known as trash or garbage, consists of everyday items discarded by the public, many of which could be recycled, including durable goods, non-durable goods, containers and packaging and other waste
- Post-Consumer Waste: discarded items and materials used by consumers, often collected from homes and businesses
- Pre-Consumer or Post-Industrial Waste: discarded items or materials generated during manufacturing but not yet used by consumers, such as damaged or obsolete products, overruns, and trimmings
- Waste Generation: the weight or volume of materials and products that enter the waste stream before recycling, composting, landfilling, or combustion takes place. Also can represent the amount of waste generated by a given source or category of sources.
- Waste Stream: the total flow of solid waste from homes, businesses, institutions and manufacturing plants that is recycled, burned or disposed of in landfills, often broken into different waste stream types
- Waste Characterization: a process of identifying various waste materials that make up a waste stream, often including the chemical and microbiological constituents of waste materials
- Recyclable Materials: waste materials that can be readily separated from the waste stream and collected for use as a substitute for new “virgin” raw materials
- Single Stream (SSR) or Mixed or Commingled Recycling: a mixture of several recyclables in one container, such as plastics, paper, metal and/or glass, as opposed to collecting and storing each material separately
- Resin Identification Code (RIC): a number-based coding system placed on plastics to identify the polymer for purposes of recycling
#1 – polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
#2 – high density polyethylene (HDPE)
#3 – polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
#4 – low density polyethylene
#5 – polypropylene (PP)
#6 – polystyrene (PS)
#7 – other (mixed plastic)
- Compostables: waste materials capable of undergoing biological decomposition at a consistent rate within a compost site, breaking down into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass
- Organic Waste: waste materials derived from living organisms, such as food, garden and lawn clippings and wood waste, which can be recycled and turned into valuable products such as compost or renewable energy
- Food Waste: uneaten food and food preparation wastes from residences and commercial establishments, including grocery stores, restaurants, produce stands, institutional cafeterias and kitchens and industrial sources
- Post-Consumer Food Waste: food that has been served to consumers but not eaten
- Pre-Consumer Food Scraps: waste created before reaching the consumer as a result of food processing, such as vegetable culls, brewery by-products, coffee grounds or kitchen preparation waste
- Green Waste: urban landscape waste generally consisting of leaves, grass clippings, weeds, yard trimmings, wood waste, and other miscellaneous organic materials
- Old Corrugated Containers (OCC): waste often referred to as cardboard, including boxes, containers or other packaging made from unbleached, un-waxed paper with a ruffled, or corrugated, inner liner
- Construction and Demolition (C&D) Waste: debris generated during the construction, renovation or demolition of buildings, roads, and bridges. These waste materials are generally bulky, heavy and produced in large quantities.
- Electronic or E-Waste: waste that consists of electronic products nearing the end of their useful life. Many e-waste products can be reused, refurbished or recycled, and government mandates often ensure e-waste is recycled rather than sent to landfill.
- Hazardous Waste: waste that poses substantial or potential threats to public health or the environment and consists of four key traits: ignitability, reactivity, corrosivity, and toxicity
- Universal Waste: a special category of hazardous waste that generally includes fluorescent lamps, cathode ray tubes, mercury or batteries
Collection and Processing
Ever wonder when you throw something away, where is away? Every piece of waste has an end destination, and some are significantly better for the environment than others.
- Hauler or Collector: a public or private entity that collects non-hazardous waste and recyclable materials from residential, commercial, institutional and industrial sources
- Curbside Collection: a method of collecting recyclable materials at homes, community districts or businesses
- Swap Program: a waste collection program in which full bins are removed by the hauler or collector and replaced with empty ones
- Source Separation: a system of segregating various waste streams at the point of generation to make recycling simpler, more efficient or cost-effective in certain locations
- Sanitary Landfill: a disposal site for non-hazardous solid waste, which is spread in layers, compacted to the smallest practical volume and covered by material applied at the end of each operating day.
- Secure Chemical Landfill: disposal sites for hazardous waste that are selected and designed to minimize the change of release of hazardous substances into the environment
- Methane: a colorless, non-poisonous, flammable greenhouse gas created by the anaerobic decomposition of organic compounds. If captured and managed correctly, it can be used for energy. If not captured or managed correctly, it can have harmful effects on the environment.
- Materials Recovery Facility (MRF): a facility where recyclable materials are separated from each other and processed for shipment and sale to various markets
- Plastic Recycling Facility (PRF): a facility that sorts mixed plastic items into streams of plastic resin types
- Waste-to-Energy Facility: a facility where recovered municipal solid waste is converted into a usable form of energy, usually via combustion
- Composting Facility: an off-site facility where the organic waste materials are biologically decomposed under controlled conditions
- Anaerobic Digestion: a process in which microorganisms break down organic materials such as food scraps, manure and sewage sludge, done in the absence of oxygen
- End Destination Facility: facilities such as mills, manufacturers and compost facilities that acquire recyclable materials for conversion into new products or raw materials
- Biogas: a renewable energy source that is produced throughout the anaerobic digestion process
- Incineration: a method for the destruction of waste by controlled burning at high temperatures
- Decomposition: the breakdown of matter by bacteria and fungi, changing the chemical makeup and physical appearance of materials
- Rendering: an industry that converts liquid fats and solid meat products into raw materials used in animal food, food cosmetics, soaps, etc.
Recycling and Diversion
Our mission is to end waste, so not surprisingly, we use plenty of waste terminology centered around recycling and diverting waste from landfills. Here are just a few of the terms you might hear, specific to waste reduction practices.
- Waste Reduction or Minimization: recycling and other efforts to reduce the amount of waste going into the waste stream by redesigning products or patterns of production or consumption
- Source Reduction: reducing the number of materials entering the waste stream from a specific source by redesigning products or patterns of production or consumption
- Waste Diversion: the act of preventing waste from being disposed into landfills and incinerators
- Zero Waste: designing and managing products and processes to reduce the volume of waste and conserve or recover all resources, so that 90 percent or more of an organization’s waste stream is diverted from landfills or incinerators. Achieving a Zero Waste goal successfully eliminates 90 percent of discharges to land, water or air that may be a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.
- Sustainability: meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs
- Carbon Footprint: a measure of the impact human activities have on the environment based on carbon outputs
- End User: the consumer of products for the purpose of recycling, excluding products for re-use or combustion for energy recovery
Looking for more sustainability tips? Explore the rest of the Rubicon blog.