Glossary of Recycling & Solid Waste Terms

Consider terms such as litter, disposable, pollution, recyclable, salvage, scrap, trash and waste.

We have many ways to describe material remaining after a product's primary intended use.

Understanding the language of waste and recycling can help all of us realize that there is no such thing as "away" when we say, "Throw it away."

Contact Pro Pac or call 888-318-0083 to discuss how we can help you with recycled content and recyclable packaging materials.

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Aerobic: Life or processes that require, or are not destroyed by, the presence of oxygen. (See Anaerobic)

Aerobic Decomposition: Degradation of organic wastes in the presence of oxygen by microorganisms and bacteria, releasing carbon dioxide gas and heat and producing solid material (compost) that can be used as a soil amendment. Processes include extended aeration, trickling filtration, and rotating biological contactors. An example of Aerobic Decomposition is the waste degradation that occurs in a compost pile. (See Composting) (Contrast Anaerobic Digestion)

Airborne Particulates: Total suspended particulate matter found in the atmosphere as solid particles or liquid droplets. Chemical composition of particulates varies widely, depending on location and time of year. Sources of airborne particulates include: dust, emissions from industrial processes, combustion products from the burning of wood and coal, combustion products associated with motor vehicle or non-road engine exhausts, and reactions to gases in the atmosphere.

American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM): Voluntary standards development organization, considered a trusted source for technical standards for materials, products, systems, and services. Their work includes standardization of compostable and/or biodegradable packaging including food containers.

Anaerobic: A life or process that occurs in, or is not destroyed by, the absence of oxygen. (See Aerobic)

Anaerobic Digestion: Degradation of organic wastes in the absence of oxygen by microorganisms and bacteria, releasing methane that can be collected and used as a fuel and producing relatively inert solid materials that can be processed for use as a soil amendment. An example of anaerobic digestion is the waste degradation that occurs in a landfill. (Contrast Aerobic Decomposition)


Bag in Bag: Collection technique where plastic bags and wrap are bundled together inside another bag, and deposited in a recycling collection bin at curbside or store drop-off.

Bale: Compacted bound cube of recyclable material.

Beneficial Use: Utilization or reuse of a material that would otherwise become solid waste. Examples include landfill cover, aggregate substitute, fuel substitute or the feedstock in a manufacturing process.

Best Management Practice (BMP): Most effective, practical methods of preventing or reducing pollution from non-point sources.

Biodegradable: Waste materials capable of being biologically decomposed by microorganisms and bacteria.

Biodegradable Packaging Institute (BPI): Science-driven organization that supports a shift to the circular economy by promoting the production, use, and appropriate end of lives for materials and products that are designed to fully biodegrade in specific biologically active environments.

Biodegradable Plastic: Degradable plastic in which degradation results from the action of naturally occurring microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and algae.

Bottle Bill: Law that requires payment of a deposit on specified beverage containers (such as aluminum cans or glass beverage bottles) by consumers at time of purchase, and subsequent refund of the deposit by the product retailer or other entity when consumers return the containers for redemption. Bottle Bills encourage container recycling and discourage littering.

Buy-Back Center: (aka Redemption Center) Facility where recyclables are delivered for payment.


Capture Rate: Ratio of quantity of recyclable materials diverted for recovery, to the total quantity of recyclable materials available for recovery. (See Diversion Rate and Participation Rate)

Carbon Footprint: Measure of impact activities have on the environment particularly climate change. Carbon footprint relates to the amount of greenhouse gases produced through burning fossil fuels for electricity, heating, and transportation, etc. Carbon footprint is a measurement of greenhouse gases produced and has units of tons or kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Climate Change: Significant change from one climatic condition to another. (See Global Warming)

Collector: Entities that collect recyclables from generators and deliver them to processors or to markets. Collectors may collect postconsumer materials from curbside or from dropoff centers and deliver them to material recovery facilities (MRFs). Collectors are also referred to as haulers or carters. Some collectors may also own the operate the MRFs.

Commercial Recycling: Practice of collecting recyclables from retail or commercial businesses, not including single-family households but frequently including multi-family residences such as condominiums or apartments.

Commercial Waste: Solid waste from business establishments such as stores, markets, office buildings, restaurants, shopping centers, and theaters.

Commingled Containers: Material categories combined in one recycling bin or cart: aluminum cans, glass bottles and jars, plastic bottles, jars, jugs, and cups, and steel cans.

Commingled Recyclables: Mixed recyclables that are collected together.

Compostable: Capable of undergoing biological decomposition in a compost site, such that the material is not visually distinguishable and breaks down into carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass, at a rate consistent with known compostable materials.

Compostable Plastic: Plastic that undergoes degradation by biological processes during composting to yield carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds, and biomass at a rate consistent with other known compostable materials and leave no visible, distinguishable or toxic residue.

Composting: Process of accelerated biological decomposition of organic material under controlled conditions. Composting takes place under aerobic conditions, typically in an open pile (windrow) or in a tank or container (in-vessel composting). (See Aerobic Decomposition and Anaerobic Digestion)

Composting Facility: Facility where organic components of municipal solid waste are decomposed under controlled conditions, often ground or shredded and then decomposed.

Conservation: Preservation, use, protection, and improvement of natural resources according to principles that will ensure their highest economic or social benefits.

Contaminant: Any physical, chemical, biological, or radiological substance or matter that has an adverse effect on air, water, or soil. Also used to describe items included in recycling process that are not recyclable.

Contamination: Introduction into water, air, and soil of microorganisms, chemicals, toxic substances, wastes, or wastewater in a concentration that makes the medium unfit for its next intended use. Also applies to surfaces of objects, buildings, recycling, and various household and agricultural products.

Converters: Businesses that buy raw material and convert that to finished goods. In the case of plastics, the plastic pellets of specific polymers are converted into items such as fibers, films, sheets, and rigid packaging along with semidurable and durable goods.

Corrugated Cardboard: The combiantion of flat paperboard glued to one or both sides of a corrugated sheet of paperboard.

Curbside Recycling: Method by which household generators deposit specified recyclables in rolling carts, and place those carts at the street or curb for periodic collection by recycling collectors.


Decomposition: Breakdown of matter by bacteria and fungi, changing the chemical makeup and physical appearance of material.

Degradable Plastic: Plastic designed to undergo a significant change in its chemical structure under specific environmental conditions, resulting in a loss of some properties that may be measured by standard test methods appropriate to the plastic and the application in a period of time that determines its classification.

Demand-Side Waste Management: Consumers using purchasing decisions to communicate to product manufacturers that they prefer environmentally sound products packaged with the least amount of waste, made from recycled or recyclable materials, and containing no hazardous substances.

Disposables: Consumer products, packaging, and other items used once or a few times and discarded.

Disposal: Final placement or destruction of wastes through use of approved secure landfills, surface impoundments, land farming, deep-well injection, ocean dumping, or incineration.

Diversion Rate: Percentage of waste materials diverted from traditional disposal such as landfilling or incineration to be recycled, composted, or re-used. Often referred to as "recycling rate" or "recycling diversion rate". (Compare Capture Rate and Participation Rate)

Drop-Off: Form of collection where generators deliver household recyclables to a central aggregation location.

Drop-Off Recycling Site: Central aggregation location where generators deliver recyclables. Also a retail location for collection of plastic bags and films.

Dual Stream: Recycling practice in which cans, bottles, and containers are collected separately from paper products.

Dump: Site used to recieve disposal of solid waste without environmental controls.


End User: For purposes of recycling, the consumer of products. Excludes products for re-use or combustion for energy recovery.

Extended Producer Responsibility: Environmental protection strategy to decrease environmental impact from a product by making the manufacturer of the product responsible for the entire life-cycle of the product, including the take-back, recycling and final disposal of the product.


Film: Generally used to describe a thin plastic material usually not more than 75 micrometres (0.003 inch) thick.


Gaylord: Trade name for a large reusable corrugated container used for shipping products and materials.

Glass Containers: For recycling purposes, containers like bottles and jars for drinks, food, cosmetics and other products. When recycled, container glass is generally separated into color categories for conversion into new containers, construction materials or fiberglass insulation.

Global Warming: Increase in the near surface temperature of the Earth. Global warming has occurred in the distant past as the result of natural influences. Now the term is most often used to refer to the warming as a result of increased emissions of greenhouse gases. Scientists generally agree that the Earth's surface has warmed by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past 140 years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently concluded that increased concentrations of greenhouse gases are causing a greater increase in the Earth's surface temperature, and also that increased concentrations of sulfate aerosols have led to relative cooling in some regions, generally over and downwind of heavily industrialized areas. (See Climate Change)

Green Purchasing (or Environmentally Preferable Purchasing): Buying environmentally preferable products or services that have a less or reduced adverse effect on human health and the environment than competing products or services that serve the same purpose. Considered product life cycle impacts include: raw materials acquisition, production, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, reuse, operation, maintenance or disposal.

Green Remediation: Practice of considering environmental effects of remedy implementation and incorporating options to maximize the net environmental benefit of cleanup actions.

Greenhouse Effect: Warming of the Earth's atmosphere attributed to a buildup of carbon dioxide or other gases. This build-up allows the sun's rays to heat the Earth, while making the infra-red radiation atmosphere opaque to infra-red radiation, thereby preventing a counterbalancing loss of heat.

Greenhouse Gas: Any chemical or physical substance that is emitted into the air and that the Commissioner of Environmental Protection may reasonably anticipate to cause or contribute to climate change, including, but not limited to, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride.


Hauler: Collection company that offers refuse removal service, may also collect recyclables. (See Collector)

Household Collection: Method by which individual households and / or multi-family complex generators deposit specified recyclables in a designated location for periodic collection by recycling collectors.

Household / Domestic Waste: Solid waste, composed of garbage and rubbish, which normally originates in a private home or apartment house. May contain a significant amount of toxic or hazardous waste.


Incineration: Treatment involving destruction of waste by controlled burning at high temperatures.

Incinerator: Furnace for burning waste under controlled conditions.

Industrial Pollution Prevention: Combination of industrial source reduction and toxic chemical use substitution.

Industrial Process Waste: Residues and scrap produced during manufacturing operations.

Industrial Recycling: Practice of a company selling its useful waste materials or process scrap to another company which uses those materials to make new items.

Industrial Source Reduction: Practices that reduce the amount of any hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant entering any waste stream or otherwise released into the environment.

Integrated Solid Waste Management (ISWM): Environmentally and economically sound, systematic approach to solid waste handling that combines source reduction, reuse, recycling, composting, energy recovery, collection, transfer, transport and disposal in sanitary landfills, solid waste combustors or other solid waste disposal and processing facilities in order to conserve and recover resources and dispose of solid waste in a manner that protects human health and the environment.

Intermediate Processing Center (IPC): Term used interchangeably with Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), or to signify MRF that not only sorts and recovers single stream and commingled recyclables (usually from residential and commercial sources) but additionally processes them into new recycled materials feedstock or recycled products. (See Materials Recovery Facility (MRF))


Landfill, Sanitary: Disposal sites for non-hazardous solid wastes spread in layers, compacted to the smallest practical volume, and covered by material.

Landfill, Chemical: Secure disposal sites for hazardous waste, selected and designed to minimize the chance of release of hazardous substances into the environment.

Life Cycle of a Product: All stages of a product, including extraction of fuel to power and resources for development, production, marketing, use, and disposal.


Mandatory Recycling: Program which by law require consumers to separate trash so that some or all recyclable materials are recovered for recycling rather than going to landfills or incinerators.

Manifest: One-page form used by haulers transporting waste that lists EPA identification numbers, type and quantity of waste, the generator it originated from, the transporter that shipped it, and the storage or disposal facility to which it is being shipped. It includes copies for all participants in the shipping process.

Manual Separation: Hand sorting of recyclable or compostable materials in waste.

Materials Recovery Facility (MRF): Facility where commingled recyclables are separated and processed (including sorting, baling and crushing) or where source separated recyclables are processed for sale to various markets. (See Intermediate Processing Center (IPC)) In a Dirty MRF the incoming recyclable materials are co-collected and commingled with other nonrecyclable portions of solid waste. (See Mixed Waste Facility)

Mixed Waste Facility: Facility that accepts municipal solid waste (MSW) and recyclable materials mixed together. Recyclables are separated from MSW, sorted, baled, and shipped to market. Residual MSW is disposed. (See Materials Recovery Facility (MRF))

Mixed Paper: Recovered paper such as magazines, newspapers, corrugated boxes, etc. not sorted into categories.

Mixed Plastic: Recovered plastic unsorted by category.

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW): Residential and commercial non-hazardous waste generated by municipalities and commercial entities, not including medical or industrial or construction/demolition waste.


Nylon: Polyamide resins, with very high melting points, excellent clarity and stiffness. Two types are used for films - nylon-6 and nylon-66. The latter has much higher melt temperature, thus better temperature resistance, but the former is easier to process, and it is cheaper. Both are extremely difficult to recycle.


Oxidation: Reaction of any substance with oxygen.


Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT): (aka Save Money And Reduce Trash (SMART)) System under which residents pay for municipal waste management and disposal services by weight or volume collected, not a fixed fee.

Participation Rate: Portion of generators of recyclable materials that actually participate in a recycling program by setting out recyclables for collection during a prescribed period of time. (See Capture Rate and Diversion Rate)

Plastic Recycling Facility (PRF): Industrial facility that accepts mixed plastic items from Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) or generators, then conducts separation and contamination removal to create saleable grades of discrete plastic resin types. A PRF may also conduct preliminary recycling operations such as size reduction to plastic flake.

Pollution: Generally, the presence of a substance in the environment that, because of its chemical composition or quantity, prevents the functioning of natural processes and produces undesirable environmental and health effects.

Pollution Prevention: Identification of areas, processes, and activities which create excessive waste products or pollutants in order to reduce or prevent them through alterating or eliminating a process.

Post-Consumer Materials: Materials or finished products that have served their intended use and have been diverted or recovered from waste destined for disposal.

Post-Consumer Recycling: Use of materials generated from residential and consumer waste for new or similar purposes.

Post-Consumer Waste: Materials or finished products that have served their intended use and are destined for disposal.

Pre-Consumer Material: Material generated during the manufacturing process that is reused/recycled before it ever goes to market.

Product Stewardship: Principle that directs participants involved in the life cycle of a product to take shared responsibility for impacts to human health and the natural environment that result from production, use and end-of-life management of the product. Stakeholders typically include manufacturers, retailers, consumers, and government officials.

Putrefaction: Biological decomposition of organic matter; associated with anaerobic conditions.


Raw Material: Materials that are used to fabricate or manufacture items.

Reclaimer: Business that accepts post-consumer and/or post-industrial plastic materials and performs operations to return these materials to commerce as useful raw materials or new finished items.

Reclamation: As part of recycling, materials found in the waste stream restored to a beneficial use which may be for purposes other than original use.

Recovery Rate: Percentage of usable recycled materials that have been removed from the total amount of municipal solid waste generated in a specific area or by a specific business.

Recyclable Material: Products that can be remanufactured into new products after their primary use.

Recyclables Broker: Individual or entity that acts as agent or intermediary between sellers and buyers of recyclable materials such as metals, paper and glass.

Recycle: Minimizing waste generation by recovering and reprocessing usable products that might otherwise become waste.

Recycled Content: Recycled content products are entirely or partially made from post-consumer materials, post industrial materials, or are products rebuilt or re-manufactured from used products.

Recycling: Separating, collecting, processing, marketing, and ultimately using material that otherwise would have been disposed.

Recycling Facility / Center: Land and structures where recycling is conducted.

Reprocess: To convert recovered materials into new raw materials that can be used to make finished goods.

Residential Recycling: Collection of recyclable, postconsumer items from single and multi-family homes either by curbside collection or drop-off collection.

Residential Waste: Waste material generated in single and multi-family homes other than waste that is diverted to composting and recycling.

Resin Identification Code (RIC): Numerical coding system in which symbols and numbers are molded or printed onto plastic bottles and containers to identify the resin from which they are made. The RIC was established in the late 1980s by the Plastic Bottle Institute. Since 2014 the RIC has been managed by ASTM. The RIC is a resin code, not a recycling code.

   #1 - Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET): Tough, temperature resistant polymer film. Biaxial oriented PET film is used in laminates for packaging, where it provides strength, stiffness and temperature resistance. It is usually combined with other films for heat sealability and improved barrier properties.

   #2 - High Density Polyethylene (HDPE): Polyethylene with a density of 0.95 to 0.965. Has much higher stiffness, higher temperature resistance and much better water vapor barrier properties than LDPE, but it is considerably hazier.

   #3 - Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): Synthetic thermoplastic material made by polymerizing vinyl chloride. Properties depend on the added plasticizer. Flexible PVC is used in plumbing pipes, insulation, shoes, garments, etc. Rigid PVC is used for moulded items such as blister and clamshell packaging and plastic tray packaging.

   #4 - Linear Low Density Polyethylene (LLDPE): Tougher than LDPE and has better heat-seal strength, but has higher haze.

   #4 - Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE): Polyethylene with a density of 0.92 to 0.934. Used mainly for heat-seal ability and bulk in packaging.

   #5 - Polypropylene (PP): Unoriented film is soft and clear but brittle at low temperatures. This property as well as stiffness, strength and clarity is improved by orientation.

   #5 - Biaxial Oriented Polypropylene (BOPP): Molecular orientation of polypropylene film in both machine and cross machine (transverse) directions created by stretching. Biaxial stretched films are generally well balanced in both directions and much stronger in terms of tear strength.

   #6 - Polystyrene: A thermoplastic material derived from the polymerization of styrene monomers.

   #7 - Mixed plastic.

Resources Recovery Facility: Facility utilizing processes to reclaim energy from municipal solid waste (MSW).

Reuse: Using a product or component of solid waste in its original form more than once for its original intended purpose or for other purposes.

Roll Carts: Large, wheeled carts used by generators, including households, to store recyclable and waste material. Wheels facilitate transportation to the curbside or hauling truck.


Salvage: Utilization of waste materials.

Scrap: Materials discarded from manufacturing operations that may be suitable for reprocessing.

Secondary Materials: Materials that are manufactured, used at least once, and are to be used again.

Secondary Material Recovery Facility: Industrial facility that accepts low volume or low-value materials from MRFs and conducts further separation, contamination removal, and aggregation to transform these materials into marketable grades for sale.

Single Stream Recycle Collection: Collection system where recyclables are fully commingled, mixing fiber (papers) and containers (glass bottles, metal cans and plastic containers).

Save Money And Reduce Trash (SMART): (aka Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT)) Systems under which residents pay for municipal waste management and disposal services by weight or volume collected, not a fixed fee.

Source Reduction: (aka Waste Reduction) Reducing the amount of materials entering the waste stream from a source by redesigning products or patterns of production or consumption.

Source Separation: Segregating various wastes at the point of generation to make recycling simpler and more efficient.

Sustainability: Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.


Tanglers: Items such as extension cords, Christmas lights, and hoses that contaminate curbside recycling resulting in negative operational impacts at Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs).

Transfer Station: Facility that receives and consolidates solid waste from collection trucks and other vehicles, then loads the waste onto tractor trailers, railcars or barges for long-haul transportation to distant disposal facilities.

Trash: Material considered worthless that is thrown away. Generally defined as dry waste material, often a synonym for garbage, rubbish, or refuse.


Volume Reduction: Processing waste materials to decrease the amount of space they occupy, usually by compacting, shredding, incineration, or composting.


Waste: Unwanted materials left over from a manufacturing process.

Waste Diversion: Act of directing waste away from landfills and incinerators and into the recycling stream.

Waste Exchange: Organization or service that facilitates or arranges for recyclable materials or discarded materials from various generators or industries to be recycled or reused by others.

Waste Generation: Amount of materials generated by a given source or category of sources that enter the waste stream before or instead of recycling, composting, landfilling, or incineration.

Waste Minimization: Measures or techniques that reduce the amount of wastes generated during industrial production processes. Also recycling and other efforts to reduce the amount of waste going into the waste stream. (See Waste Reduction)

Waste Reduction: (aka Source Reduction) Reducing the amount of materials entering the waste stream from a source by redesigning products or patterns of production or consumption.

Waste Stream: Total flow of solid waste from homes, businesses, institutions, and manufacturing plants that is recycled, burned, or disposed of in landfills. Also segments thereof such as "residential waste stream" or "recyclable waste stream."


Zero Waste: Designing and managing products and processes to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and eliminate pollutant discharges to land, water and air so that all discarded materials are resources for use, reuse, recycling and/or composting.


American Society for Testing and Materials
Product Stewardship Initiative
Solid Waste Association of North America
United States Environmental Protection Agency

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Home, Business & Government Sustainability Resources
Three Pillars of Environmental Social, Governance (ESG)
Glossary of Sustainability Terms
Glossary of Recycling & Solid Waste Terms

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