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A glossary of words connected to waste and the 3Rs.


The short way of saying 'Reduce, Reuse and Recycle', perhaps the three most important words in waste management.


Biodegradable waste

Waste that can break down or rot naturally when attacked by bacteria. Examples include food and garden waste. Other kinds of waste are said to be non-biodegradable


Bring site

A place where people bring recyclable materials to a central collection point to be placed in special containers such as bottle banks, from where they can be collected for recycling. Often found in supermarket car parks.



Compost is created by the controlled breakdown of biodegradable material such as garden and kitchen waste. It can be used to improve soil structure and nutrient levels without the need for artificial fertilisers and peat-based composts.


Domestic waste

Waste which comes from homes. Also known as household waste.


Energy from waste (EfW)

This uses the energy contained in waste to generate power and heat while reducing the amount of waste. Examples are incineration used to provide heat to nearby buildings, and methane gas from landfill sites being used to generate electricity. Also known as energy recovery.



The illegal dumping of rubbish in unauthorised places such as roadsides.


Greenhouse gas

A gas that absorbs heat and therefore contributes to the warming of the earth's atmosphere the 'greenhouse effect.’ Examples of greenhouse gases include Water Vapour, Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and Methane.


Hazardous Waste

Waste that is potentially harmful to humans, other living things and the environment and so needs to be carefully disposed of.  Examples of hazardous waste include asbestos and poisons. Also called Special Waste.



Getting rid of waste by burning it at high temperatures. Around 9% of the UK's household waste is incinerated.


Kerbside Recycling

Households put recyclable materials on the roadsides outside their homes for collection by the local council.



Where waste is buried in holes in the ground. Many of our current landfill sites are nearly full and we are rapidly running out of suitable land to create more.


Landfill Tax

A tax on every tonne of rubbish sent to landfill sites. The tax is designed to reduce the amount of rubbish sent to landfill sites by increasing the reduction, reuse and recycling of waste.



Liquid consisting of a mixture of rainwater and rotten organic materials which drains from a landfill site.



Waste (usually paper, plastics and glass) thrown around in the environment, rather than being placed in a proper bin or other waste facility. Not all waste is litter but all litter is waste.


Materials Recovery Facility

Often known as an MRF (pronounced 'murf'), this is a place where materials are taken to be sorted and stored before they are sent off to be recycled.



A gas given off by landfill sites and which is highly inflammable and a major contributor to global warming. As well as being produced by landfill sites, methane is also the main ingredient of the gas which we use to cook and heat our homes.


Mobius loop

A logo meaning that something can either be recycled or that it is made from recycled material.


Natural Resources

Substances of use to humans that are derived either from the Earth (e.g. coal, oil and metal ores) or from living things.


Organic Waste

Waste derived from plants and animals makes up about 20% of the weight of an average dustbin. A lot of the organic waste created by households consists of food but other sources are garden waste and the contents of babies' nappies. Yuck!



Putting poisonous or other harmful substances into the environment.


Raw Materials

The basic resources used to make materials and products. For example, raw materials used in the manufacture of steel include iron ore, coal and limestone.



Recycling means using things that have already been used to make new things. This can involve turning the old material into a new version of the same thing. Alternatively, materials can be recycled into something completely different.



Reduce means avoiding creating waste in the first place and is an even better thing to do than reusing or recycling. Examples of waste reduction include buying items with less packaging and not replacing items until really necessary.



Means that something (for example a bottle) can be refilled rather than having to be thrown away when it is empty.



A general word for the things and materials that we obtain from the Earth. Resources can be classified in two ways.

  • Renewable resources are those that can replace themselves over a fairly short time scale. Examples include the water in a reservoir or crops which grow from year to year.
  • Non-renewable resources can either never be replaced or take a very long time to replace. Examples include coal and oil.



Reusing means using something again, either for the same purpose or for something completely different. Examples include returning milk bottles for refilling and repairing electrical goods when they go wrong instead of throwing them away.



Anything that we think we no longer have a use for and so throw away. Means much the same as waste but not the same as litter.


Sustainable Development

This means finding ways to meet the needs of the present generation without damaging the environment or preventing future generations from being able to meet their own needs.


Toxic Waste

Waste that is poisonous to humans or other living things.



Anything that we think we no longer have a use for and so throw away.


Waste Hierarchy

This describes the way in which some ways of dealing with waste are better for the environment than others. Reduction of waste is the best option followed by reuse. Only when nether of these is possible, should waste by recycled. Disposal through landfill or incineration should only be the last resort.


Waste Transfer Station

A place (often a large warehouse) where waste is separated or 'bulked up' before being taken elsewhere for recovery or disposal.



A container specially designed to allow worms to break down discarded food and other organic waste and convert it into compost and liquid fertiliser.


Waste Minimisation

A term which refers to the whole process of sending less waste to landfill and incineration but instead finding ways to reduce, reuse or recycle it.