9 Recycling and Waste Management Terms You Need to Know

Every industry has its own set of vocabulary that makes it easier for employees to communicate and get their work done. The recycling and waste management sector, for example, boasts a wide array of specific terminology that you can learn to help you lead a more sustainable life. Read on to explore a few of these terms:


The process through which microorganisms, like worms and bacteria, aid in the decomposition of organic elements. By consuming and processing organic matter, these agents can rapidly break it down into simple, natural elements, like water or carbon dioxide. This process not only ensures that no organic material goes to waste, but it also generates crucial nourishment for the flora and fauna in the environment. Composting, a process through which organic waste decomposes to create nutrient-rich soil, is one way that people harness the power of biodegradation to recycle waste products.

Bulk waste


Items that cannot fit into traditional waste or recycling receptacles due to their large size. Though bulk waste can encompass any number of products, some of the most common items are home appliances and furniture. Many cities run waste management programs that provide bulk trash services to locals. In some municipalities, homeowners can leave their bulk waste out for retrieval on designated pickup days. In other locations, residents can typically call their local waste management company and arrange for special retrieval.

Closed-loop recycling

The process of using discarded materials to generate new versions of the same items. Using this system, manufacturing facilities take all manner of waste, including scrap materials produced in the manufacturing process, and use them to create brand-new products. This “closed loop” enables companies to rely solely on their waste to provide the source materials for new items.


The mixing of numerous different types of recyclable materials into a single container. When waste management workers accept commingled materials, it simplifies the process of recycling for their consumers and can lead to greater participation in recycling programs. However, commingling can sometimes make recyclables more difficult to sort and process if the materials are contaminated by any kind of non-recyclable waste. As such, commingled recyclables must always remain separate from regular household trash.



Sites that workers use to dispose of municipal solid waste. Though sometimes referred to as “dumps,” these locations serve as more than a mere dumping ground for trash. Waste workers create landfills by carefully condensing trash into layers and then blanketing them with soil on a daily basis. To preserve the surrounding ecosystem, waste management workers line each landfill and use special methods to monitor and contain any contaminated runoff that they produce. Some landfills, known as “sanitary landfills,” are constructed in special ways to further mitigate the risk of hazardous drainage. There also exist landfills that are designed specifically to hold chemicals and other dangerous materials.

Materials Recovery Facility (MRF)

A plant dedicated to processing recyclables so that they can re-enter the product stream. Upon receiving recyclable items from consumers, MRFs use either workers or machines to sort all materials by kind and pack each group into bales. The facilities then sell the recyclables to outside manufacturers, who use them to produce brand-new items.

Post-consumer waste

The items that consumers use to their full purpose and then discard. These materials usually go to landfills or incinerators, but some of them go to recycling facilities, which transform them into raw materials, known as post-consumer recyclables, that companies use to create new goods.


The practice of buying and using products that create little to no waste. Swapping out plastic bags for reusable totes, plastic wrap for solid containers, and paper for digital materials are only some of the ways that consumers can engage in precycling.

Zero waste

The idea of a completely waste-free society in which the citizens recycle or reuse all disposable materials. To achieve a perfect zero-waste system, waste management professionals would need to create ways of eradicating the presence of waste while salvaging all possible materials. Concurrently, manufacturers would need to develop products that are easier to recycle than to throw away. Unlike most waste management systems, which focus on the disposal of waste, the zero-waste model focuses primarily on preserving resources and eradicating harmful waste emissions.